Further Progress After Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Certain Benefits Extended to Gay and Lesbian Servicemembers and Families

The Pentagon announced that it will extend certain benefits to the families of gay and lesbian servicemembers.  In the announcement, Leon Panetta, United States Secretary of Defense, explained that since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Pentagon has been reviewing benefits to determine those it could extend to gay and lesbian servicemembers and their families without violating the Defense of Marriage Act.

The new expansion allows servicemembers to designate specific protections to their partners including, but not limited to, life insurance and death gratuity benefits; notification if the service-member is wounded, killed or missing; transportation allowance if the service-member is hospitalized; hospital visitation privileges; presentation of the flag of the United States.  Additionally, once the servicemembers and their partners have signed a Declaration of Domestic Partnership attesting to the existence of their committed relationship, the partners of gay and lesbian service members will have access to commissary privileges; ID cards to get on base; family support initiatives, legal assistance and sexual assault counseling; ability to take emergency leave for family emergencies and joint duty assignment, in addition to other benefits.  The Declaration of Domestic Partnership is similar to the document same-sex families complete for many employers who offer benefits to same-sex families in states where gay marriage or civil unions are not yet legal.

The member designated protections are in immediate effect and the additional benefits offered to the families of gay and lesbian servicemembers will be in place no later than October 1, 2013.  The expansion does not address health care, housing, and survivor benefits due to the restrictions under the Defense of Marriage Act.  However, a memorandum released by Secretary Panetta detailing the benefits offered under the expansion specifically states that if at any time “the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense, it will be the policy of this Department to construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of their sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits.”

To review Leon Panetta’s Memorandum detailing the benefits expansion, go here.

To review a good Q&A from OutServe regarding the same, go here.