January 04, 2014, 02:58 pm
Military overhauls ID policy for same-sex couples
By Ben Goad
The Pentagon is moving to finalize a new military identification policy in response to last year's Supreme Court's ruling that struck down the longstanding ban on federal benefits for gay couples.
Under regulations to be published in Monday’s Federal Register, the Defense Department will formally recognize the words "spouse" and "marriage" as including same-sex couples.
“DoD is no longer prevented from extending Federal benefits to the same-sex spouses of DoD military members and civilian employees,” the agency said in a 114-page notice detailing the regulations.
Though effective immediately, the regulations will be subject to public comment for 60 days.
The action is among hundreds of federal policy changes set in motion by the court’s decision last June to overturn the ban, a central provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Gay service members have been allowed to express their sexuality since the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy ended in 2011. But prior to the DOMA ruling, their spouses were still denied access to health, housing and education benefits extended to heterosexual husbands and wives.
Soon after the ruling, the Pentagon issued a directive saying it would offer full benefits to same-sex couples.
The process hit a rough patch when nine state National Guards, beginning with Texas, said they would not offer ID cards to same-sex couples. They contended the policy conflicted with their state laws banning same-sex marriage, and said same-sex couples would have to report to federal facilities to obtain the cards.
In late October, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the National Guards to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to,” Hagel said.
The new policy replaces identification regulations issued in 1997.
The Defense Department issues roughly five million ID cards a year to military members, civilian employees, contractors, foreign nationals, and where applicable, family members. The program costs just over $28 million annually.
Beyond healthcare and the other benefits, the cardholders have access to base commissaries, morale and welfare services, and recreation facilities.
The number of additional cards that will need to be issued to same-sex spouses and their families is expected to amount to less than one percent of the total, the Pentagon said.