CT Politics

Connecticut Politics

Leon Panetta extends military benefits to same-sex couples

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As one of his last acts in office, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta extended additional military benefits to gay and lesbian couples Monday, saying discrimination based on sexual orientation “has no place in the Department of Defense.”

These encompass 20 benefits such as education, hospital visitation, casualty notification, travel, transportation, identification cards, family counseling, relocation assistance, access to Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs and other benefits that will be available to gay and lesbian couples who sign a declaration attesting to their committed relationship. Find the memo and all benefits available here.

However, Panetta said some benefits such as health care and housing will remain limited to married heterosexual spouses under the restrictions imposed by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, also signed by former President Bill Clinton. DOMA forbids same-sex spouses from receiving the same federal benefits that heterosexual spouses are entitled to, such as Social Security benefits and immigration privileges. The Supreme Court will rules on DOMA’s constitutionality this year.

Congress repealed the Clinton-era “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in December 2011. At the time of repeal, Panetta, a former Democratic House member from Monterey, promised to review the benefits available to couples.

“It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country,” Panetta said. “Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation. Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation.”

But because DOMA remains in force, “There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law, which is now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court,” Panetta said. “While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation. Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families.”

He said the implementation of added benefits for same-sex couples “will require substantial policy revisions and training” but will be available “as expeditiously as possible.” Panetta called the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t tell “one of the great successes” at Pentagon, saying implementation “has been highly professional and has strengthened our military community.”

Panetta also served as chief of staff to Clinton, a Democrat under whom major restrictions on same-sex couples were imposed. Nearly two decades later, the broadening acceptance of gays and lesbians has put Republicans increasingly on the defensive on the issue. President Obama gave Panetta a warm farewell at a military base near Washington Friday.

Carolyn Lochhead

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