Panetta: 'The Department Will Extend Additional Benefits to Same-Sex Partners'

DoD photo by Chief Hospital Corpsman Josh Ives, U.S. Navy/ReleasedSecretary 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, including 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 discriminatory so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Panetta’s statement is below (and here).

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. 

Panetta’s memorandum extending these benefits can be viewed here

“Building on the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ [Monday’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,” said House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member, Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09).

Smith added, “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.”

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