Pentagon to Issue Same-Gender Couple Benefits

Is this new policy indicative of how the Supreme Court will rule on DOMA this summer?

In another victory in the rapidly escalating movement for same-gender equality, the Pentagon will give some benefits to gay and lesbian partners of military-service members, according to multiple news outlets. An official announcement is expected to come later this week from retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Same-gender partners are expected to receive military identification cards, which will allow access to military perks such as commissaries and family-support programs, and access to military-only facilities including gyms and movie theaters. Additionally, same-gender partners could receive some privileges in health programs. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy, which enforced a mandatory discharge of any troops identified as gay or lesbian, was repealed 16 months earlier.

"Considering DADT was repealed well over a year ago, our families have waited far too long for the Defense Department to extend benefits to same-sex military spouses," said Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association. "No military family should suffer because of outdated regulations. For the sake of our families, we hope for substantive action and look forward to hearing from Secretary Panetta on exactly what benefits will be extended."

While a step in the right direction, the benefits being extended to same-gender couples will not encompass the full breadth of allowances—including medical, dental, housing and other spousal benefits—because of the continued existence of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That law states that the federal government only recognizes heterosexual marriages.

What About DOMA? What Will SCOTUS Rule?

As more states have recognized same-gender marriage, the next big question is how the Supreme Court will rule on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8? Both cases will appear before the high court starting in March, with rulings expected sometime this summer. Proposition 8 refers to the ballot measure against same-gender marriage that was approved by voters in California but which has been ruled unconstitutional by lower courts.

"If you provide benefits to individuals seen as the most deserving and the social fabric doesn't tear, that does make it easier down the line to do away with DOMA," said Tammy S. Schultz, the director of the National Security and Joint Warfare Program at the Marine Corps War College. However, she says the benefits announced by the Pentagon "could be a flanking maneuver to keep chipping away at it."

Global Equality Increasing

While global inequities for LGBT people remain and are examined in our recent Global Diversity Research report, there has been progress in certain countries. Our report examines LGBT resource groups and benefits, and companies' abilities to create safe workplaces and to lobby for human rights. Most of the progress in LGBT equality globally has come in Western Europe. To that end, the British House of Commons just voted overwhelmingly to approve same-gender marriage in the United Kingdom.

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