The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) this morning will have a significant effect on the benefits of gay members of the military.
In February, following the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the Pentagon announced it will provide over 40 new benefits to same-sex couples. The directive, issued by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, offered a provision for remunerations like death benefits, commissary access, and hospital visitation privileges that would only be applicable if DOMA was struck down.
The memo read that “in the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense ... married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits.”
In February, the directive allowed child care benefits, emergency leave, readiness support, base support, and more. Now, the remainder of the benefits in the directive can be exercised. Groups like OutServe-SLDN, a military organization that supports gay and lesbian service members, expect Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to act quickly on implementing the benefits.
“[Defense] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel has already demonstrated his commitment to LGBT military families, just as he promised he would during his confirmation. Today the court cleared the way for him to take the next step,” Army veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson said. “We expect Secretary Hagel to act so that all families affected by today’s ruling gain access to full recognition, benefits and support no later than 60 days from today.”
Hagel already issued a statement this afternoon concerning the new benefits.
“The Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision today on the Defense of Marriage Act," he said. "The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses—regardless of sexual orientation—as soon as possible. That is now the law and it is the right thing to do."
The ruling will affect about 17,000 troops, veterans, and dependents. This includes 5,600 active-duty personnel, 3,400 National Guard and Reserve troops, and 8,000 retired service members.
Danny Ingram, president of American Veterans for Equal Rights, said that even legally married same-sex couples who live in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage should still be able to receive military benefits. Ingram was discharged from the military in 1994 under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban.
“It is a huge, huge victory for same-sex couples in the military. It just about sets them equal,” Ingram said.