As the Pentagon moves to extend some benefits to the same-sex spouses of military members but reverse an earlier plan to provide benefits to gay partners who are not married, local gay soldiers say the decision makes the most sense for creating a more equal military.
According to a draft U.S. Defense Department memo obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, top defense leaders would reverse an earlier plan that would have allowed same-sex partners of military members to sign a declaration form saying they are committed partners to receive limited benefits, such as access to military stores and some health and welfare programs.
Instead, the memo from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the department may provide up to 10 days of leave to military personnel to travel to a state that allows same-sex marriage so they can marry legally.
Staff Sgt. Karyl Holliday, who is stationed at Fort Gordon, said he’d rather have the revised plan now that the Defense of Marriage Act was repealed in June extending federal benefits to same-sex married couples.
Gay couples should not be able to get benefits for being in a committed relationship and not legally married if straight couples cannot, said Holliday, who has been dating a same-sex partner for nine months.
“That’s no different than a straight couple. We’re asking for equal rights, not special privileges,” he said.
Hagel said in the memo that the Supreme Court decision extending federal benefits eliminated the need for the plan involving a declaration form.
First Lt. Jonathan Roman, also at Fort Gordon, said requiring couples to be married levels the playing field with straight couples. The document could have caused problems with couples falsifying relationships to get benefits, he said.
“I feel it’s a fine move. It might even cut down on any fraudulent relationships,” Roman said.
When the Pentagon announced in February the extension of some benefits to same-sex partners, not including housing, officials said the issue would be revisited if the Supreme Court ruled on DOMA, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing any marriage other than that between a man and a woman.
“As the Supreme Court’s ruling has made it possible for same-sex couples to marry and be afforded all benefits available to any military spouse and family, I have determined, consistent with the unanimous advice of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the spousal and family benefits far outweigh the benefits that could be extended under a declaration system,” Hagel wrote.
According to unnamed Pentagon officials who spoke to the AP, the memo is under legal review by the Justice Department, and the Pentagon will not be able to take action until that review is finished.
Roman said same-sex soldiers are eager to get benefits and are patiently waiting for the Pentagon to make its decision, perhaps by the end of August.
“We’ve waited years for this,” Roman said. “What’s another three or four weeks?”
Associated Press reports were used in this article.