Are the federal Defense of Marriage (DOMA) days numbered in America? Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced Monday that same-sex spouses of active members of the military will begin receiving protections that were previously denied to them. Protections include the issuance of military identification cards, access to family support initiatives, and joint duty assignments.
Panetta noted that the Pentagon was doing what it could, within the constraints imposed by the country’s discriminatory so-called DOMA regulations.
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 here.
The Seattle Lesbian has responses to Panetta’s declaration. They are as follows.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member, Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09), said:
Building on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” today’s announcement is another big step toward equality in the military. Just as no individual should be forced to hide who they love to serve their county, no individual should be deprived of the benefits they have earned simply because of who they have married.
Over the last few years, the Department of Defense has made great strides in moving our military toward equality. I applaud Secretary Panetta and President Obama for their leadership. Even with the right leadership in the Pentagon and the White House, Congress should still act. Legal barriers must be torn down so equality can be realized. That is why I will reintroduce the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act (MSET), which would make the necessary changes to relevant sections of United States code.
The Administration is doing what it can within the constraints that are in place, but the job is not done. I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration and my colleagues in Congress to achieve full equality in the military.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said:
Today’s announcement by the Pentagon that it will provide same-sex spouses of active service members some of the limited protections it can, within the discriminatory constraints imposed by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, is a positive step that will help families and align with the military’s goals of treating service members fairly, while at the same time underscoring just how great a burden DOMA imposes on families and employers,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “All members of our armed forces provide the same service, make the same sacrifices, and take the same risks to protect our country – and the military, like many employers – would like to treat its people equally. But DOMA’s gay exception means that the federal government, including the Pentagon, may not provide family protections to families or even respect married couples as married, if they are gay. The problem is not what the military and employers would like to do; it’s that the law is tying the hands of employers and the military for no good reason. It is time to overturn DOMA and get back to the practice of federal respect for married people and families, especially those serving our country.
Former infantry officer and Knights Out Executive Director Jonathan Hopkins said:
By providing supports like ID cards, base access, and hospital visitation for gay partners, the Department of Defense has taken a strong intermediate step toward equality for all military families,” said Hopkins, a 2001 West Point grad. “This is a significant step forward, and will make life easier for the gays and lesbians who serve our country by supporting their military spouses. However, it’s clear that military leaders are hampered in their goal of treating all soldiers equally by the cruel and unfair Defense of Marriage Act. We look forward to the day that DOMA is overturned and we can treat all military families with the respect they deserve for their sacrifices.
Hopkins also acknowledged the passing of Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, who lost her battle with cancer on Sunday.
Many of us were lucky enough to know Charlie and Karen, and we are grieving the loss of a remarkable soldier,” Hopkins remarked. “As former, current, and future officers we have a responsibility to look out for our soldiers always. Charlie’s passing reminds us of that solemn responsibility, and we will redouble our efforts to make sure that Charlie’s family, and all military families, are given fair and equal support.
Originally posted on The Seattle Lesbian.