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Military announces some benefits for same-sex partners

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Monday that the military will extend benefits to same-sex partners.

Panetta's statement, via the White House:

"Seventeen months ago, the United States military ended the policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  We have implemented the repeal of that policy and made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in the Department of Defense.

"At the time of repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy.  It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country.  The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated.  Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members.

"Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation.  Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation.

"One of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land.  There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law, which is now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.  While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation.  Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families.

"While the implementation of additional benefits will require substantial policy revisions and training, it is my expectation that these benefits will be made available as expeditiously as possible.  One of the great successes at the Department of Defense has been the implementation of DADT repeal.  It has been highly professional and has strengthened our military community.  I am confident in the military services' ability to effectively implement these changes over the coming months."

The secretary's memorandum extending these benefits can be viewed at: http://www.defense.gov/news/Same-SexBenefitsMemo.pdf

Outserve-SLDN praised Panetta's announcement:

(Washington, DC) Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson today praised outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for his decision to extend to nearly the full extent permitted under current law the benefits available to gay and lesbian service members and their families. Though Panetta’s announcement did not include a number of important items that could have been granted - including burial rights at national cemeteries and some overseas travel for spouses, which remain under consideration - Robinson called the package “substantive” and acknowledged that the Pentagon has done almost as much as it can with the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) still on the books.

“Secretary Panetta’s decision today answers the call President Obama issued in his inaugural address to complete our nation's journey toward equality, acknowledging the equal service and equal sacrifice of our gay and lesbian service members and their families. We thank him for getting us a few steps closer to full equality - steps that will substantively improve the quality of life of gay and lesbian military families,” said Robinson.

OutServe-SLDN has called on the Department of Defense to issue these benefits for more than two years. In recent weeks, the organization has increased pressure on the Pentagon by calling on Secretary Panetta's presumptive successor, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, to commit to offering the full slate of benefits available under DOMA upon taking office. Senator Hagel did so in a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) last month and reiterated his commitment during confirmation testimony.

The package of recognition, support, and benefits - which includes the issuance of military identification cards, access to family support initiatives, and joint duty assignments - does not address the larger issues of health care, housing, and survivors’ benefits restricted by DOMA and other federal statutes. The Supreme Court is set to consider DOMA next month, and is expected to issue a ruling later this year.

“As encouraging as this step is for our military families, the passing yesterday of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan and the needs of her family - needs in danger of going largely unmet because of the Defense of Marriage Act - reminds us of how far we still are from true equality.” said Robinson.

Morgan passed away on Sunday from breast cancer after a two-year battle with the disease.She came out publicly on MSNBC on September 20, 2011, the day of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal, and became a nationally recognized advocate against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars her wife, Karen, from receiving military, Social Security and other benefits to help her care for their five-year-old daughter Casey Elena. The Morgans are plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by SLDN in October 2011 challenging DOMA and other federal statutes that prevent the military from providing equal recognition and support to same-sex military spouses. They currently do not receive the same protections as their straight, married peers, and Karen is not entitled to survivor's benefits in the wake of CW2 Morgan's death.

“In light of Charlie Morgan's untimely passing and the Pentagon's long-awaited move toward equal treatment, the harm DOMA inflicts on gay and lesbian service members and their families, and on the strength of our military, could not be clearer. I hope our Supreme Court Justices are watching as these events unfold, and that they see that striking down DOMA is the only way this unjust and untenable situation can be rectified. The forces that defend 'liberty and justice for all' must be freed to embody that principle as well, and our nation must be allowed to offer our LGBT troops and their families the respect and support that their sacrifice is due," said Robinson.

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