Bill offers benefits to gay military couples

Author: Rick Maze
Publication: Marine Corps Times
Publication Date: June 28th, 2012

Click here to read the full story at Marine Corps Times

A key House Democrat supports providing full military and veterans benefits to same-sex couples.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, introduced a bill that would redefine "spouse" when it comes to military benefits to follow state law for the place where the couple married. If the marriage was legal, the couple would get the same benefits as a wife and husband.

By following the definition in the state where the couple married, the bill avoids the problem of following the definition used in the state where the couple resides, which could result in benefits that change from one assignment to the next.

The bill, HR 6046, was introduced June 27 and was referred to the armed services and veterans' affairs committees. Smith calls it the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act.

It is not clear if there is any chance for even a hearing on the bill in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where there has been talk of trying to restore the ban on openly gay service members if Republicans sweep the House, Senate and White House in the November elections.

In a statement, Smith said the 2011 repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" "was a tremendous step forward" but "there is more that can be done to ensure that the rights of all of our service members and their spouse, regardless of whether they are of the same sex or opposite sex as the service member, are protected."

The bill, he said is simple: "If veterans or service members have a spouse of the same sex, then their spouse will be afforded the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts.

"Spouses of service members should not be prevented from receiving the benefits they have earned simply because they are the same sex as their partner," Smith said. "This discriminatory practice must come to an end."

Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, a group pushing for equal treatment of same-sex couples, said since "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed, "most Americans think our troops are serving freely and fairly alongside each other, but this is not the case. Federal law still discriminates against married gay and lesbian service members, veterans, and their families by denying them crucial protections and creating two classes of service members in our armed forces," Wolfson said. The bill "is a specific and necessary step to ensure protection of married gay and lesbian members in our armed forces."