January 25, 2013 at 4:43 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
White House: Gay troops benefits issue has Obama’s attention
White House, Jay Carney

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said benefits issue for gay troops ‘has the president’s attention’ (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney asserted on Friday that President Obama is considering the issue of outstanding partner benefits that could be extended to gay service members administratively.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said Obama is focused on further implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and “the need to ensure that proper benefits are provided,” but referred further questions to the Pentagon.

“The president is absolutely focused on and aware of the need to further implement DADT [repeal], and to ensure that proper benefits are provided,” Carney said. “You know, for more details, I would point you to the Defense Department, but this is an issue the president is aware of and it has his attention.”

Asked by the Blade whether it was reasonable to conclude the Pentagon needs prodding, Carney replied, “Again, this issue has the president’s attention.”

Since the time “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, Pentagon officials have said they’ve been examining possible partner benefits that are currently withheld from gay troops. However, the Pentagon hasn’t taken any action since that time.

While major ticket items like health and pension benefits are precluded under the Defense of Marriage Act and other federal law governing rights of U.S. service members, LGBT advocates say other benefits could be extended administratively, such as military IDs and joint duty assignments, as well as access to housing and family programs.

The issue has received more attention in the wake of controversy over a spousal club at an Army base in Ft. Bragg, N.C., refusing to offer membership to Ashley Broadway, the spouse of the lesbian service member. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and OutServe-SLDN have called on the Pentagon to action, as has Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has circulated a letter among U.S. House members calling for the extension of these benefits.

Kevin Nix, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign responded to Carney’s answers saying that the Pentagon can extend partner benefits to gay troops at any time.

“I would just reiterate that the secretary can issue regulations tomorrow  — a simple fix really that’s doesn’t run afoul of DOMA,” Nix said. “All of this country’s servicemembers, their spouses and partners should be treated equally.”

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, whom President Obama tapped to replace Panetta upon his departure, is expected to answer questions on issues pertaining LGBT troops during his confirmation hearing set for Thursday. In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer last week, Hagel already expressed commitment to extending partner benefits to gay troops, saying, “I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”

A transcript of the exchange between the Washington Blade and Carney follows:

Washington Blade: Jay, there’s been a lot in the news recently about how service members with same-sex partners aren’t receiving certain benefits that could be extended administratively at any time at the Pentagon. They include military IDs, joint duty assignments and access to certain family programs. Is the President aware of this issue and will he direct the Pentagon to take action on this if they don’t do it on its own?

Jay Carney: I can tell you broadly, I don’t have specifics for you. The president is absolutely focused on and aware of the need to further implement DADT [repeal], and to ensure that proper benefits are provided. You know, for more details, I would point you to the Defense Department, but this is an issue the president is aware of and it has his attention.

Blade: The Pentagon has saying since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011 that they’ve been reviewing this issue, but no action has been taken. Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that they need a little prodding?

Carney: Again, this issue has the president’s attention.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Michael Bedwell

    Chris Johnson deserves loud, sustained applause for his tireless courage in wading again and again into White House press conferences knowing, as all reporters do, that they’re barely less adversarial than facing someone in court, and that Carney’s PAID to say NOTHING that admits mistakes or failure by his boss, the President. But everyone needs to understand two relevant facts this article doesn’t make clear:

    It isn’t as if the President JUST learned of these issues. Not only did HRC and SLDN raise them in early 2011 [however quickly they essentially gave up], but SIX YEARS AGO, when he was still a candidate for the Party’s nomination, Mr. Obama brought them up himself, saying:

    “The eradication of [DADT] will require more than just eliminating one statute. It will require the implementation of anti-harassment policies and protocols for dealing with abusive or discriminatory behavior as we transition our armed forces away from a policy of discrimination. The military must be our active partners in developing those policies and protocols. That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office.”

    Need we add he did NOT mean the SECOND time he took office?

    Nor was it just since September of 2011 that the Pentagon has been studying benefits. Their “Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” published in November 2010, explicitly admitted:

    “Our Terms of Reference REQUIRED that we consider the issue of benefits for
    same-sex partners and the families of gay and lesbian Service members, in the event of
    repeal. This issue is itself large and complex, and is part of the ongoing national, political,
    and legal debate concerning same-sex relationships and gay marriage. WE STUDIED THE ISSUE CAREFULLY, AND NO OTHER POLICY RECOMMENDATION CAME CLOSE TO CONSUMING AS MUCH TIME AND EFFORT.” [Emphasis mine.]

    They even made suggestions of HOW those not banned by DOMA could be extended:

    “For benefits such as these [e.g., access to military family housing], the Department of Defense COULD legally direct the Services to revise their regulations to extend coverage to Service members’ same-sex partners. This could be accomplished in two ways: leave to the Service member the freedom to designate his or her ‘dependents’, ‘family members’, or similar term; or, revise these definitions to specifically mention a committed, same-sex relationship, and require some type of proof of that committed relationship. The latter is similar to the approach now being taken in Federal agencies for civilian employees.” [Emphasis THEIRS.]

    BUT they recommended AGAINST doing either for a variety of transparently phony reasons one could only explain by recognizing that—just as racism in the military did not end with PHYSICAL integration—there remains a recalcitrant core of homophobes in the Department of Defense doing all they can to prevent gay and lesbian service members from being treated equally under the law. The only mystery is why this President continues in 2013 to let them get away with it—and why OUR paid advocates in Washington aren’t DEMANDING he stop.

  • I’m Just Sayin’

    Bedwell’s demands for “self-identification” of family members and HRC’s suggestion that not just spouses but “partners” as well, may be pushing the envelope farther than an organization that functions through rules and order can go. Independent, government issued proof of dependency is a reasonable standard for the military.

    Accordingly, HRC is absolutely correct that there is no “defense” for not immediately providing legally married same-sex couples the same access to non-DOMA barred benefits as any other legally married couple. That one is a no-brainer and requires no study since the protocols are already in place and can be met with the same state government issued documentation currently accepted as proof of marriage.

    Carney, was posturing and Obama should rightfully be taken to task for this. Not by those posers over at Log Cabin who have lost all standing as gay advocates with their endorsement of Mitt Romney and their defense of John Boehner, but by those of who helped put him into the White House four years and ago and those of us who put him back in residence again.

    Asking if the President needed prodding, was cheeky but not very useful. I mean what did you really expect Carney to say, “yes?” The follow-up question should have been “when can we expect a decision?” And should continue to be so, until it is answered.

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