WASHINGTON -- In one of his final moves at the Pentagon on Monday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that he was extending certain benefits to gay service members and their families in the path to equality in the military.
Yet even after this step, there are still nearly 100 benefits that these service members cannot access, according to the gay rights group OutServe-SLDN. The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, and therefore, federal benefits that are granted to "spouses" do not apply to men and women in same-sex marriages.
Below are more details on 10 of the benefits that are still banned:
- Medical And Dental Care. U.S. law states that all service members and their dependents -- defined as a spouse, dependent children and stepchildren, and dependent parents and parents-in-law -- are granted access to military medical treatment facilities. Same-sex spouses, however, are ineligible for health benefits under DOMA.
- U.S. Citizenship. The Immigration and Nationality Act says that the "surviving spouse" of a service member who dies while on active duty in the U.S. military may be naturalized and become a citizen. Under DOMA, gay men and women do not qualify.
- Primary Next Of Kin Qualification. Service members designate a family member to be their "primary next of kin" -- the first person who is notified if they are taken as a prisoner of war or killed, wounded or missing in action. Same-sex spouses, however, are not eligible to be listed as the PNOK, due to DOMA. They can be listed as a "designated person," but that person is not notified as quickly and does not receive as many details as the PNOK.
- Education Benefits. The GI Bill allows service members to transfer unused education benefits to their spouse or children. Gay men and women, whose marriages aren't recognized under DOMA, are unable to transfer these funds to their spouses.
- Reassignment Expenses When married service members are assigned to a new duty station, they usually get extra funding so that a spouse can accompany them. Under DOMA, same-sex spouses do not qualify, and service members have to pay out of their own pocket.
- Leave For Spouse's Childbirth. The military allows men whose wives give birth to take a 10-day absence for paternity leave. Since the law states the couple must be married, and DOMA does not recognize same-sex marriages as legitimate, a lesbian woman would not be able to take this leave when her wife has a baby.
- In-State Tuition Rates. When members of the U.S. military are on active duty, their spouses and their dependent children are guaranteed in-state tuition rates in the state where they reside or are permanently stationed. Under DOMA, a man or woman with a same-sex partner in the military would not qualify.
- Family And Medical Leave Act. The landmark Family and Medical Leave Act offers significant benefits to members of the military and their families. This includes 26 work weeks to care for a service member suffering from an injury or illness resulting from active duty, and another 12 weeks to deal with child care or legal or administrative issues that result from deployment. But because of DOMA, the Pentagon does not recognize same-sex spouses as "family members."
- Purple Heart Association Membership. The Purple Heart is one of the most prestigious military awards, given to service members who are wounded or killed in duty. The Military Order of the Purple Heart is an organization strictly for recipients of the award, as well as their "spouse, parent, sibling, or lineal descendant of either a living or deceased Purple Heart recipient." Same-sex spouses, under DOMA, do not qualify for membership.
- Employment Services. Spouses of U.S. service members may be able to receive education training and employment assistance during a permanent change of station. Under DOMA, same-sex spouses cannot get these benefits.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation last year that would address gay military families' exclusion from benefits. The Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act would provide equal benefits to same-sex military families by redefining "spouse" in the U.S. Code in order to supersede DOMA.
He said on Monday that he will be reintroducing the bill this year.
"The Administration is doing what it can within the constraints that are in place, but the job is not done," he said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration and my colleagues in Congress to achieve full equality in the military."
Panetta's announcement comes 16 months after the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which barred gay men and women from serving openly in the military. LGBT groups and their allies have been pushing the Defense Department to extend benefits to gay service members since the policy was repealed.
In his memo on the changes Monday, Panetta said that if DOMA is ever repealed, "it will be the policy of the Department to construe the words 'spouse' and 'marriage' without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits."
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who was one of the leading voices in Congress pushing for an extension of benefits, called on the legislature to now repeal DOMA.
"Secretary Panetta today added to his already-impressive legacy by taking administrative action to make sure that all military families have access to the very best care, facilities and services possible," he said in a statement. "Now it's time for Congress to finish the job by repealing DOMA and passing legislation that will extend full benefits for LGBT service members."
Panetta said the Pentagon will attempt to extend the new benefits to service members by Aug. 31 and no later than Oct. 1.
OutServe-SLDN has a guide containing more information about what these changes mean for service members.
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