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.
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.