Pentagon criticized for offering spousal benefits to gay couples

Leon Panetta US Secretary of Defense CNA US Catholic News 2 13 13 Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense.

The Department of Defense has drawn criticism over new policies providing same-sex partners some of the benefits normally reserved to military spouses.

The new policies make "a mockery of the Defense of Marriage Act that is still the law of this nation," said Chaplain Ron Crews, a retired Army Reserve Colonel and executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.

Speaking to CNA on Feb. 13, Crews decried these new policies, saying that they essentially ignore the intent of federal law by treating same-sex couples as spouses.

Crews pointed to the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court will rule on a case challenging the law this summer.

President Barack Obama has previously announced that he thinks the Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory and ordered the Department of Justice to stop defending it in court.

Now, Crews believes that the president's administration is violating the intent of the law by treating gay couples as if they were married couples.

In a document released on Feb. 11, the Pentagon announced that some spousal benefits will be extended to same-sex partners of active duty members of the armed services.

"At the direction of the President," the document stated, "the Department [of Defense] has conducted a careful and deliberative review of the services currently provided to the families of Service members."

"We have now identified additional family member and dependent benefits that we can lawfully provide to same-sex domestic partners of Military Service and their children through changes in Department of Defense policies and regulations," it said.

The expansion of benefits to same-sex partners follows a Congressional decision to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," thereby allowing individuals who identify as openly gay to serve in the military. 

The new Pentagon document identifies a number of spousal services that will now be extended to same-sex partners of armed services members. These benefits include the provision of dependent ID cards, on-base shopping and recreation privileges, emergency leave, counseling programs, transportation services and compensation for a missing or captive partner.

Spousal benefits that are regulated by the Defense of Marriage Act – such as health care and housing allowances – are still reserved to heterosexual spouses.

However, the document explained that if that law is ruled unconstitutional, the Defense Department will "construe the words 'spouse' and 'marriage' without regards to sexual orientation," expanding these benefits to same-sex couples as well.

Also excluded from the benefits that are being extended to gay couples are on-base housing and burial. Secretary of Defense Leon Penetta said that these benefits were not included because they "present complex legal and policy challenges" and may be banned by the Defense of Marriage Act.

He added that the Department of Defense would continue to investigate these benefits and determine "how best to ensure that all Service members are treated equally regardless of sexual orientation."

Crews argued that in addition to defying the intent of the Defense of Marriage Act, the decision is unwise for a variety of reasons.

"It is an outrage that the Department of Defense would provide benefits to an unknown number of persons," he said, "at significant cost to the military, at a time when the military's budget is being reduced. It is even worse that this is being done without consulting Congress."

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