Military same-sex couples to get full benefits

WASHINGTON — Same-sex military couples will qualify for full benefits, including government-provided healthcare and housing allowances, as long as they are legally married, under new rules announced by the Pentagon.

The requirement for same-sex couples to be married is a shift for the Pentagon, which in February announced that full benefits would be provided to members of the military and same-sex spouses if they attested they were in a “committed relationship.”

But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that finding a way for unmarried, long-term couples to qualify for benefits “is no longer necessary,” since a Supreme Court ruling in June struck down a federal law that barred married same-sex couples from obtaining federal benefits.

In addition to healthcare and housing benefits, the new policy will allow same-sex couples to qualify for extra compensation when a spouse in the military is deployed and unable to live at home. It will also enable spouses of same-sex couples access to base facilities, including post exchanges.

Hagel said in a memo that the requirement that same-sex couples be married was backed unanimously by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In theory, it will make it harder to qualify for benefits for military couples stationed in one of the 37 states where same-sex marriage is illegal.

But service members who are stationed in those states will be offered special leave so they can travel to one of the 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, that grant same-sex marriage licenses, the memo said.

"We recognize that same-sex military couples who are not stationed in a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage would have to travel to another jurisdiction to marry. That is why the department will implement policies to allow military personnel in such a relationship… leave for the purpose of traveling to a jurisdiction where such a marriage may occur,” it said.

The benefit payments are retroactive to June 26, 2013, the date of the Supreme Court's ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

“The extension of equal benefits for all legally married spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, is a huge step forward for our families who for far too long have been excluded and cut off from support,” said Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partner Assn., a group representing same-sex military couples.

"While this is a huge step forward in making sure our same-sex military spouses have equal access, we still have a long battle ahead of us in making sure all of our LGBT military families have equal protection in all 50 states,” he added.

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