Rep. Steny Hoyer called plans to extend some benefits to same-sex partners of military personnel “an important step in the right direction” – but said more change is needed.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday that same-sex partners would be eligible for benefits including military I.D. cards and hospital visitation rights.
But he said other benefits – including housing and survivor benefits – remain off-limits under the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That law, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, is now under Supreme Court review.
“There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law,” Panetta said. "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, irrespective of sexual orientation.”
The move comes 17 months after the Pentagon lifted its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which prevented openly gay members from serving in the military.
Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called the new policy “encouraging,” but said the Defense of Marriage Act still hinders efforts to recruit the “most qualified talent.”
He said the death of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, a female member of the New Hampshire National Guard whose wife is not eligible to receive survivor benefits, “demonstrates the real human toll on military families of this discriminatory policy.”
Morgan had sued the federal government over the Defense of Marriage Act, which she said violated her constitutional rights. She died Sunday after a battle with breast cancer.
“This case, and others like it, serve as a stark reminder why the Supreme Court should overturn this unfair law,” Hoyer said.
“In the meantime, I hope the Pentagon will continue exploring ways to open more benefits to same-sex partners and create a more equal service environment that reflects a commitment to the values our military personnel excel at defending around the world.”