The military is poised to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of service members, U.S. officials said Tuesday, about 16 months after the Pentagon repealed its ban on openly gay service.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not made a final decision on which benefits will be included, the officials said, but the Pentagon is likely to allow same-sex partners to have access to the on-base commissary and other military subsidized stores, as well as some health and welfare programs.
Panetta's decision comes as he nears the end of his tenure as Pentagon chief and on the heels of President Barack Obama's broad call for equal rights for gays during his inaugural speech. "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well," said Obama, who also has supported gay marriage.
Also, just days ago, a woman married to a female Army officer at Fort Bragg was invited to become a full member of the North Carolina base's officers' spouses club after initially being denied. The Marine Corps has also said that any spouses clubs operating on its bases must admit same-sex partners. Last year, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation that would extend same-sex benefits to spouses of veterans and service members.
He argued that with gays serving openly in the military, their spouses should receive the same benefits. Under his measure, the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department would have to recognize any marriage that has been recognized by a state, the District of Columbia, commonwealths or territories. Nine states and the District of Columbia now allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. "Building on the repeal of `don't ask, don't tell,' this is another big step toward full equality in the military. No individual should be deprived of the benefits they have earned simply because of who they have married," Smith said Tuesday.
"No military family should suffer because of outdated regulations. For the sake of our families, we hope for substantive action and look forward to hearing from Secretary Panetta on exactly what benefits will be extended."