Gay-rights groups applaud expected DOD same-sex benefits
By: Leigh Munsil
February 5, 2013 03:56 PM EST
Gay-rights advocacy groups and members of Congress applauded reports Tuesday that the Pentagon plans to propose extending benefits to some same-sex spouses of U.S. military members.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not decided which benefits would be affected, The Associated Press reported, according to unnamed sources. But the Pentagon will likely extend access to some military bases and on-base stores, as well as to some health programs.
The Pentagon declined on Tuesday to confirm any details of the benefits being considered, but spokeswoman Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde said it was reviewing its policy.
"The department is conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners," she said.
The move has been a long time coming, American Military Partner Association President Stephen L. Peters II said.
“Considering DADT was repealed well over a year ago, our families have waited far too long for the DoD to extend benefits to same-sex military spouses,” Peters said. “No military family should suffer because of outdated regulations.
“For the sake of our families, we hope for substantive action.”
Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, said it makes sense for Panetta to take this opportunity at the end of his tenure to push through reforms related to the rights of gay service members.
"We remain insistent that gay and lesbian servicemembers serving equally deserve exactly the same benefits available under the law that straight service members receive,” Cronk told POLITICO. “We hope that Secretary Panetta will finish two of the key pieces of reform that have not yet been completed under the repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ — instituting a non-discrimination policy in the military and providing for the open service of transgender service members. Anything less would be a disappointing end to Secretary Panetta's decades of public service."
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) has been nominated to take Panetta’s place, pending a confirmation by the Senate. And during his confirmation hearing last week he made clear that he would “work to ensure that everyone who volunteers to fight for this country has the same rights and opportunities.”
And that, he said, includes "doing everything possible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our servicemembers."
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) quickly released a statement after the report surfaced in The Washington Post, calling the move encouraging.
“We need to make sure that all military families, including those with same sex partners serving at home or abroad, have access to the very best care, facilities and services possible,” Schiff said. “In his last days before leaving office, Secretary Panetta can add to his already long list of accomplishments, take up this cause and make sure that the administration acts.”
OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson, an Army veteran, said Panetta’s previous unwillingness to extend benefits to the families of gay and lesbian service members “has baffled” many gay-rights advocates.
“We are hopeful that he will not take half-measures here; for him to grant anything less than the full extent of benefits available under current law would be an anticlimactic end to an otherwise exemplary record on civil rights,” Robinson said in a statement.
And Hagel should be ready to pick up where Panetta leaves off, she added.
“Sen. Hagel made history with his firm and unequivocal commitment of support to LGBT servicemembers and their families, including his promise if confirmed to act expeditiously to grant all benefits available under current law,” she said. “For Secretary Panetta to do anything less at this point would be to leave the job half done.”