HRC Calls on Secretary Panetta to Extend Benefits to Gay and Lesbian Service Members and Spouses

by HRC Staff

Washington– As part of the Human Rights Campaign’s ongoing effort to achieve full equality for gay and lesbian service members and their families, HRC is, in addition to calling on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to issue military IDs to same-sex spouses, urging him to extend every possible benefit not specifically barred by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The revisions would ensure same-sex spouses in the military receive the same benefits afforded all other service members.

“Secretary Panetta can easily take regulatory steps on his own to ensure equality for the brave gay and lesbian service members and their families who already sacrifice so much for this nation,” said HRC Vice President for Communications Fred Sainz. “We urge the Secretary to act immediately, and ensure all members of the armed services have equal access to housing benefits, military ID cards, legal services and spousal privileges. These regulatory changes can be made independently of existing federal law, like the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Some of the regulatory changes Panetta could make with the stroke a pen include:

  • 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.
  • 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 Exhanges – Same-sex spouses and partners can’t access 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 reason.
  • Legal Services – Opposite-sex military service members and their families have access to free legal services on a variety of items, including the drafting of wills and serving as advocate and counsel. Same-sex spouses and partners do not have access to these free legal 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.

Such actions have already been taken, for example, by the State Department to extend benefits to the partners and spouses of Foreign Service officers and by OPM to extend sick leave, long-term care insurance, travel and relocation assistance, and other benefits to civilian federal employees.    

“Gay and lesbian service members and their families make so many sacrifices every single day, and they deserve nothing less than equal treatment from our government,” added Sainz.

Unfortunately, even with these revisions, some statutorily-defined benefits – like access to healthcare benefits – cannot be extended to the spouses and partners of gay and lesbian service members because of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.

During Panetta’s tenure at the Pentagon, he became the first Secretary of Defense to record a Pride message for gay and lesbian service members. And just today, Panetta lifted a controversial ban on women in combat, a move that will allow female service members to serve on the front lines of battle. Panetta now has a final opportunity to continue advancing equality prior to the end of his time at the Pentagon.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that LGBT Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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