Seventeen months after the Defense Department ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it finally released information on what benefits can be extended to same-sex partners of military members. The new list of benefits leaves out some pretty important concerns—such as health care, housing and survivor benefits—because of the ongoing existence of the Defense of Marriage Act. However, these new guidelines do allow service members to give certain protections to their same-sex partners if they sign a form stating that they’re in a committed relationship.
This action, combined with the recent lifting of the combat ban for women, means that outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta deserves kudos for getting the military that much closer to equality. Let’s not pretend, though, that there isn’t still a long way to go. Said Panetta in a statement,
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. 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, regardless of sexual orientation.
He is giving the military until Oct. 1 to implement the changes but expects the military to put all effort into complying by the end of August. The Supreme Court is supposed to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA in June.
There are benefits that same-sex partners are entitled to receive immediately such as hospital visitation privileges, transportation to a deceased partner’s burial, service members’ and veterans’ life insurance plans and casualty notification.
LGBT couples are also expected to get these additional benefits no later than October: child care, emergency leave, commissary and base exchange privileges, sexual assault counseling, school transportation for dependents, death and disability compensation, pay benefits for service members missing in action, legal assistance and the privilege to get a hostile-environment waiver if both service members are deployed in a war zone.