SWAN Applauds Bill Providing Equal Benefits for Same-Sex Military SpousesCritical Legislation Introduced in Honor of Deceased Service Woman, Advocate for LGBT Troops by Senator Gillibrand, Senator Shaheen

(New York, NY) – On Friday, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation to make additional benefits available to all military spouses and families regardless of sexual orientation. The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 is named after New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, who passed away last week after battling breast cancer.  Karen, Morgan’s wife, is not eligible for survivor benefits because of the military’s policy on same-sex marriages.

“Our hearts are broken over the loss of Officer Charlie Morgan, and the added suffering her family now must endure because of unjust military policy,” said Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of Service Women’s Action Network(SWAN) and a former Marine Corps Captain. “It is appalling that men and women in uniform are not afforded equal benefits by U.S. military because of their sexual orientation. We applaud Senator Shaheen and Senator Gillibrand for their swift work to bring justice to LGBT military families – this critical legislation is long overdue.”

According to advocacy organization OutServe-SLDN, over 100 benefits granted to service members, veterans and their families are contingent upon marital status. The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 would extend some of these key benefits, including access to the military health care program (Tricare); funding to allow a service member’s spouse to accompany them when he or she is assigned to a new duty station, and surviving compensation for the spouse of a deceased service member. After Charlie’s diagnosis in 2008, she and her wife spoke repeatedly about how these practices against same-sex couples would devastate their family if Charlie died.

“The story of Charlie Morgan offers a powerful example of why we need immediate action to end LGBT discrimination in our military,” said Senator Shaheen. “Charlie served on the front lines for our country, but because of her sexual orientation her family is wrongfully being denied many of the same benefits given to those who stood beside her.”

“This legislation is an important step forward in achieving full equality for all of our men and women serving and fighting for our nation,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Same-sex partners of military servicemembers should not be denied essential benefits because of who they are.”

Despite Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s recent announcement of an extension of benefits to LGBT military families, much more must be done to ensure equal treatment for all service members. The Charlie Morgan Act would require the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to honor any marriage that has been recognized by a state and provide a number of key benefits to the spouses of all service members. By allowing for an individual to be considered a “spouse” if their marriage is valid in their state, this bill ensures that same-sex military families receive many of the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

SWAN urges Congress to pass the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 immediately for the families of brave LGBT service members and veterans who have served their country. SWAN staff is available for interview and comment.

SWAN is a national nonpartisan civil rights organization founded and led by women veterans. SWAN’s mission is to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and the freedom to serve in uniform without discrimination, harassment or assault; and to reform veterans’ services to ensure high quality health care and benefits for women veterans and their families. For more information visit  www.servicewomen.org
 
 
Washington, D.C. — In anticipation of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s announcement of the Pentagon’s extension of some military benefits to same-sex couples, the Center for American Progress released “Checklist of Benefits Secretary Panetta Can and Should Extend to Same-Sex Military Spouses,” which provides a full accounting of the benefits service members and their families are denied, despite the full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” more than a year ago.

Benefits and support programs are critical to service members—in fact, they make up 70 percent of a service member’s overall compensation. Some of the regulations conferring benefits to service members which do not apply to same-sex couples include:

  • Joint duty assignments, whereby the Pentagon generally allows two service members married to one another to be assigned to the same duty station, assure dual-military families they will not be forced to separate as a result of the military’s need to routinely relocate personnel. In 2011 U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class Luz Bautista received transfer orders to report to duty in Illinois—while pregnant—but her spouse was required to remain at her duty station in San Diego with their child. Luz Bautista, her spouse, and their two children expect to be separated for three years.
  • Military family housing is available to service members supporting dependents, but while an opposite-sex spouse is considered a dependent under Pentagon regulation, a same-sex spouse is not. A military member in a same-sex marriage without children would be restricted to quarters designed for unmarried service members.
  • Exemption from hostile-fire areas exist for dual-military families, so that if one spouse is killed, becomes 100 percent disabled, or goes missing in action, the other spouse may be exempt from also serving in a hostile-fire area. One such purpose of this policy would be to prevent a situation where a child loses both parents in the line of duty. The Pentagon does not currently extend this privilege to same-sex dual-military spouses or, subsequently, offer that same protection to their children.
  • Hospital visitation rights for a same-sex spouse are required by federal law of hospitals which participate in Medicare. Current Pentagon regulations, however, allow military health treatment facilities that do not participate in Medicare to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Family programs are offered by the military, including deployment support, marriage and family counseling, and relocation assistance. Each branch of service is free to determine its own standards of eligibility for these programs, which leaves room for discrimination against same-sex spouses. Our military members continue to serve their country with honor and integrity, and it is our duty to ensure that their families receive the support and benefits they need and have earned.
In a letter to Secretary Panetta in 2011, OutServe-SLDN, an organization representing actively serving gay military personnel, provided a comprehensive list of benefits that could be extended to military members in same-sex marriages independent of Supreme Court or congressionalproceedings on the Defense of Marriage Act. The Pentagon should immediately revise its rules to ensure equitable access to military benefits for gay service members and their families to the extent possible under the law. Anything less than complete access to these benefits means that gay service members and their families will continue to face harmful and unnecessary discrimination by the U.S. military.

As outgoing Defense Secretary Panetta prepares to step down from his post, he can and must extend benefits to same-sex military spouses to the fullest extent possible under the law. Doing so would be a final demonstration of his commitment to making the military a more equitable institution for all Americans, gay or straight, man or woman. And though equality for gay military members and their families cannot be achieved until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed or ruled unconstitutional, the Pentagon can immediately send a clear message to Congress and the Supreme Court that there is no room for discrimination in the ranks.

Read the full column here.



 
 

On Wednesday, January 30, 2013 All Out delivered more than 200,000 All Out petition signatures to members of parliament ahead of a vote for a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry in France.

“More than 200,000 French All Out members have signed a petition urging their MPs to vote for a bill that would give gays and lesbians the right to marry,” said Andre Banks, Executive Director and Co-founder of All Out. “All Out members understand there is nothing comparable to marriage. If loving gay and lesbian couples want to show their commitment to one another, they should be able to marry no matter where they live in the world.”

“The outpouring for support for marriage for gays and lesbians has been incredible,” said Andre said. “I am optimistic MPs will see what I have seen. This has been All Out’s fastest growing petition in France ever, proving French people are more than ready to see their gay and lesbian friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues, should have the right to celebrate their love and commitment to one another through marriage.”  

If this bill is passed, France will become the twelve country to allow gays and lesbians to marry nationwide, adding to the growing global movement towards full relationship recognition for gays and lesbians.

“Every country that passes marriage for gays and lesbians has an impact on the global movement towards equality,” said Brian Ellner, a leading U.S. marriage advocate who is advising All Out on the French marriage campaign. “The significance of France making a move towards equality should not be underestimated. Given France’s influence around the world, a marriage equality win there will have far reaching effects worldwide.”

“Equality for gays and lesbians world wide is the inevitable,” Andre Banks said, “We won’t stop until equality is everywhere.”

On Sunday, more than 100,000 people demonstrated in support of marriage for gays and lesbians in Paris.

The French Institute of Public Opinion released their latest poll on Saturday. More than 63 percent of French citizens support marriage for gays and lesbians.

For more about the rally in Paris:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/28/world/europe/supporters-of-same-sex-marriage-rally-in-france.html?_r=0