- February 1, 2013
This post comes from HRC Policy and Strategy Cooridnator Jennifer Pike:
Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a confirmation hearing on former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense. Questions about Sen. Hagel’s commitment to equality for gay and lesbian service members played a prominent role in the hearing. As part of his opening statement, Sen. Hagel said:
“We must always take care of our people. That’s why I will work to ensure that everyone who volunteers to fight for this country has the same rights and same opportunities. As I’ve discussed with many of you in our meetings, I am fully committed to implementing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and doing everything possible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all—all—of our service members.”
Sen. Hagel answered a question from Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) affirming that he would “faithfully and diligently enforce our laws” to ensure gay and lesbian service members aren’t discriminated against. He also asserted that he supports the current policy allowing military chaplains to perform same-sex weddings, in response to a question from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS).
Despite the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” two years ago, families of gay and lesbian service members are still treated differently than the families of their straight peers. Some of the inequities exist because of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. Others could be fixed by revising current Defense Department regulations and policies. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) asked Sen. Hagel for a “strong commitment” to military families to address these inequities, and he assured her that he would.
These regulatory changes include:
- Access to Housing – Same-sex spouses and partners in the military are currently ineligible for the economic benefits that come with on-base housing, such as rent-free living quarters.
- Access to Military ID cards – Same-sex spouses and partners are currently ineligible for the identification card that is essential for accessing bases, morale and recreation programs, and a number of other on-base amenities and services.
- Access to Commissaries and Exchanges – Same-sex spouses and partners are not guaranteed access to the discounted stores where most military families typically save an average of 30 percent on grocery bills.
- Personnel assignments – Military regulations currently do not include same-sex spouses or partners when considering assignments. However, opposite-sex, dual-career military couples may be assigned to the same geographic region.
- Legal Services – Opposite-sex military service members and their families have access to free legal services. Same-sex spouses and partners do not have access to these services.
- Spousal Privilege to Refuse to Testify – The Rules of Evidence in the Manual for Courts-Martial grants opposites-sex spouses the privilege to refuse to testify against one another in criminal cases – a benefit not extended to same-sex spouses or partners.
It will be important that the next Secretary of Defense be committed to equality for all military families. We will expect Sen. Hagel – if confirmed – to stand by his testimony today and act immediately to provide the families of gay and lesbian service members the greatest possible access to equal benefits under the law.