The Pentagon is set this week to announce that it will extend long-sought partner benefits to gay and lesbian service members, according to a report in The Washington Post confirmed as accurate by an LGBT advocate familiar with the process.
The Defense Department has reportedly decided to extend these benefits amid media scrutiny and calls from LGBT advocates to make the change before outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta leaves his post.
It’s not immediately clear which benefits that LGBT advocates have been calling for will be extended to gay troops with same-sex partners or when this week the decision will be formally announced. A White House spokesperson deferred comment to the Defense Department, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
LGBT advocates, including the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, have been calling on Panetta to issue via secretarial directive certain partner benefits they say could be extended administratively at any time. Among them are military IDs, joint duty assignments, housing, access to the commissary and availability of family programs and legal services.
Other benefits, such as health and pension benefits, cannot be extended at this time to gay troops because of the Defense of Marriage Act and U.S. law governing rights for service members.
Since the time that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, Pentagon officials have said they’ve been reviewing the issue to determine which benefits can be extended under current law. However, no action has been taken.
LGBT advocates responded to the news by urging the Pentagon to provide partner benefits to the fullest extent under the law.
Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, said Panetta has a “strong civil rights record” during his tenure at the Pentagon and his reluctance to extend these benefits for so long has “baffled many” seeking the benefits.
“We are hopeful that he will not take half-measures here; for him to grant anything less than the full extent of benefits available under current law would be an anticlimactic end to an otherwise exemplary record on civil rights,” Robinson said.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, expressed a similar sentiment that the Pentagon should go as far as possible in extending benefits to gay troops.
“We welcome the news that benefits will be extended to the same-sex spouses and partners of gay and lesbian service members, and urge Secretary Panetta to make sure every benefit possible under the law is included,” Griffin said. “This is the logical next step in ensuring all our military families are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
The issue has also received attention on Capitol Hill. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to the Pentagon last week calling on Panetta to extend these benefits. A group of 25 House members led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also signed a letter sent last week calling for enactment of the benefits.
In a statement, Schiff said he’s “encouraged to hear” the Pentagon will finally take action.
“We need to make sure that all military families – including those with same-sex partners serving at home or abroad – have access to the very best care, facilities and services possible,” Schiff said. “In his last days before leaving office, Secretary Panetta can add to his already long list of accomplishments, take up this cause and make sure that the administration acts.”
The issue has received more attention in the wake of a controversy over a spousal club at an Army base in Ft. Bragg, N.C., refusing to offer membership to Ashley Broadway, the spouse of a lesbian service member. At one point, Broadway was informed she was ineligible for membership because she lacked a military ID. The spousal club has since offered Broadway full membership.