The Story: The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it would grant same-sex couples previously unavailable federal benefits by September—including a special leave not granted to heterosexual service members.
The Background: According to The Hill, the Defense Department is giving legally married same-sex couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples by Sept. 3, a move that’s being made in response to the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) earlier this year.
“It is now the Department’s policy to treat all married personnel equally,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a memo announcing the new benefits.
“The Department will construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ to include same-sex spouses and marriages, and the Department will work to make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages.”
The newly available benefits for same-sex couples include housing, medical, and family separation benefits, which will be made retroactive to June 26, the date of the Supreme Court decision.
The Pentagon will also grant special leave for service members who are stationed in a location where same-sex marriage is illegal. Service members stationed in the contiguous United States will receive up to seven days leave, and those in Hawaii, Alaska and overseas can get up to 10 days, acting Undersecretary for Personnel Jessica Wright said in a memo.
“We recognize that same-sex couples not stationed in a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage would have to travel to another jurisdiction to marry,” said Hagel. “Accordingly, the Department will implement policies to allow military personnel in such a relationship non-chargeable, for the purpose of traveling to a jurisdiction where such a marriage may occur.”
Why It Matters: From the formation of the Continental Army in 1775 to 2011, the U.S. military considered homosexual behavior to be detrimental to morale, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline. But in 2010 both the judicial and executive branches decided to overturn the long-standing policy in order to allow service members to openly engage in homosexual relationships.
Less than three years after forcing this change on the military—and the American people—a new standard has been added in which service members are given special treatment in order to circumvent state laws that prohibit same-sex marriage. To understand why Secretary Hagel’s reasoning cannot withstand scrutiny, consider the case of state legal age to marry laws. If an 18 year old female sailor stationed at the naval station in Newport, Rhode Island wants to marry her 17 year old beau, she needs not only his parent’s consent but approval from the Family Court. If the Family Court disapproves, she would not be able to marry in Rhode Island but could do so in another state, such as Pennsylvania or Texas. Why would she not be eligible for seven days of free vacation to marry her fiancé?
The new policy change shows how rapidly the federal government has moved from prohibiting to forcing acceptance to providing preferential treatment for homosexuality.