Possible benefits that could be afforded to service members with same-sex partners will be the “the largest piece” of what the Pentagon intends to examine in the 60 days before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is off the books, according to DOD officials.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Steven Hummer, chief of staff of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal Implementation Team, identified benefits Friday as among the policies “important to the department and service members” and said they’ll be examined before and after the military’s gay ban has been lifted.
“The department will continue to study existing benefits to determine those, if any, that should be reviewed based on policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility considerations, to give the service member the discretion to designate persons of their own choosing as beneficiaries,” Hummer said.
Hummer made the remarks during a news conference at the Pentagon intended to answer questions about the path forward for the military now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has been certified. The president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified repeal Friday in accordance with the repeal law, which means the military’s gay ban will be off the books on Sept. 20.
Even with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” off the books, gay service members with partners or spouses faced inequities thanks to straight service members in marriages on issues such as living expenses and medical care, travel, housing benefits. Much of this inequity is because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Repeal Implementation Team identified any partner benefits that could go to gay service members despite DOMA, Virginia “Vee” Penrod, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy and co-chair of the Repeal Implementation Team, said the group determined to hold off on those determinations until after repeal takes effect.
“When we looked at the plan for implementation of the law, our priority was to develop the training and ensure that the force is trained,” Penrod said. “And looking at that priority, we realized the benefits, although very important — that we would wait until repeal before we decided to look in the benefits; which we will do upon repeal.”
Pressed by the New York Times for an example of a benefit that may be afforded to service members despite DOMA, Penrod said legal counsel may be among them.
“We have, like, legal policy for — where an individual could come in and would request legal assistance,” Penrod said. “And whether or not is that just for the service member or can I bring in my partner and also have assistance, and so that’s an example. There are just some that are not by law, but it’s by policy.”
Another reporter continued to ask whether the difference in benefits for gay and straight service members “may cause friction” in the armed forces that could disrupt unit cohesion.
Hummer maintained the Pentagon “will continue to follow the law” as mandated by DOMA and leaders are responsible for maintaining good order and discipline “irrespective of sexual orientation.”
In addition to maintaing that an examination of benefits is in the works, Pentagon officials disputed the notion that an executive order would be necessary to provide non-discrimination protections for gay service members. While “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is on its way to being lifted, no new statute has been put in its place to protect gay troops from discrimination.
Some advocates have been calling for an executive order from President Obama that would prohibit discrimination against service members on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Obama administration hasn’t explicitly said whether or not it would issue such a directive, but Pentagon officials have maintained the current military code within the chain of command is sufficient.
Asked whether an executive order would be needed to address discrimination, Hummer replied, “I believe it does not.”
“All service members, irrespective of their sexual orientation, are entitled to an environment that is free of any bars that would prohibit their full growth to as high a responsibility as they could reach,” Hummer said.