WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it would extend federal benefits to same-sex spouses of military personnel and civilian defense employees, following up on a Supreme Court decision that overturned a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The benefits will be available to all legally married spouses regardless of sexual orientation, beginning no later than Sept. 3, according to a Defense Department announcement.
“The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the U.S. military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally as the law directs,” the announcement said.
The Pentagon also said it would allow leave for couples who are not stationed in the jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage — including the District of Columbia and 13 states — so they can travel elsewhere to be married.
Same-sex spouses will be eligible for entitlements such as military health benefits and housing allowances on a retroactive basis if they were legally married before the June 26 Supreme Court decision, according to the announcement. Entitlements will begin on the date of marriage for those who wed after the ruling.
Gay rights advocates applauded the Pentagon’s announcement but said their work is not done.
“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,” said Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association.
Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized the administration in a statement this week for providing special leave for gay military personnel.
“Military leave is granted by statute, and while there are special provisions in law for adoptions, childbirth and emergency situations, to my knowledge there are no special provisions for marriage, same-sex or otherwise,” Inhofe said. “As I have warned before, this administration is eroding our military’s historical apolitical stance by using it as their activism arm for their liberal social agenda.”
The Pentagon has allowed gays to serve openly in the military since September 2011, when the Defense Department canceled its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in response to Congress and President Barack Obama repealing that law the previous year.
Before the Supreme Court decision this year, the Defense Department planned to allow same-sex spouses and domestic partners to sign a relationship declaration in order to receive limited benefits such as access to commissaries and certain health programs.