Pentagon extends new protections to military spouses harmed by DOMA

Today, outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced his decision to extend new protections to same-sex spouses of active members of the military. For the past year and a half, since the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' same-sex spouses of service members were denied these critical protections - including military ID cards, access to family support initiatives, and joint duty assignments. 

Panetta explained that the protections the Pentagon will extend cover almost everything the Pentagon can do given the constraints of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that federally prohibits lawful marriages between same-sex couples. DOMA restricts the military from addressing larger concerns, including health care, housing, and survivor's benefits to fully protect the spouses of gay and lesbian service members. Check out an entire list of protections blocked by DOMA here (PDF).

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a legal challenge to DOMA, where the Court will have the opportunity to strike down this anti-gay, unconstitutional law once and for all.  

Sec. Panetta explained more in a statement this morning (PDF). He 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.

One of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land. 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. 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.

Freedom to Marry's founder and president Evan Wolfson acknowledged today's announcement as a step forward. He said:

Today's announcement by the Pentagon to extend protections to the same-sex spouses of active service members is a crucial step in the direction of fairness and freedom for military families, but its significance is limited because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. All members of our armed forces provide the same service, make the same sacrifices, and take the same risks to protect our country; but DOMA prevents them from being seen as the same in the eyes of the federal government. Despite the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," legally married gay and lesbian soldiers continue to be treated as second-class citizens and do not receive equal treatment that allows them to care for their families in the same way as their comrades. While today's news moves us forward, it's past time to take the final step of repealing DOMA once and for all and respecting all married service members as what they are: married.  

This year, Freedom to Marry has partnered with OutServe-SLDN for Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry, a campaign working to amplify stories of how DOMA hurts military families. Learn more about the campaign HERE, and learn more about the Defense of Marriage Act HERE