The military is poised to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of service members, officials said Tuesday, about 16 months after the Pentagon repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not made a final decision on which benefits, the officials said, but the Pentagon likely will allow same-sex partners access to the on-base commissary and other military subsidized stores, as well as some health and welfare programs.
Pentagon press secretary George Little declined to comment. Other officials made it clear last-minute legal discussions to determine the details are ongoing. An announcement is expected in the next several days.
But extending benefits and other rights to homosexual couples in the military goes directly against the spirit of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. The federal law forbids the federal government from recognizing any marriages other than those between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court will probably rule on the law’s constitutionality in June when it considers U.S. v. Windsor.
“The primary public purpose of marriage is to promote responsible procreation,” Sprigg said. “Since that is a purpose that is never served by same-sex relationship, they should not be treated as marriages.”
The Obama administration declined to defend DOMA in U.S. v. Windsor and Speaker John Boehner announced last spring that the House of Representatives would take up the case. That is very unusual, said Sprigg, and the Department of Justice ought to defend and enforce duly enacted laws.
But parts of the military have been pushing ahead with the issue regardless of the outcome of the DOMA case. Just days ago, a woman married to a female Army officer at Fort Bragg was invited to become a full member of the spouses club at the North Carolina base, after initially being denied. The Marine Corps also said any spouses clubs operating on its bases must admit same-sex partners.
And a few same-sex couples have already been “married” in chapels on military bases. Traditional marriage advocate and former Air Force chaplain Rev. Gordon James Klingenschmitt said he knows of three such ceremonies.
A Pentagon memo issued in September 2011, states that decisions on whether to allow private functions, including religious ceremonies, on military property should be made on a “sexual-orientation neutral basis,” provided the uses don’t violate state or local laws.
This threatens the religious freedom of military chaplains, according to Klingenschmitt, by putting even more pressure on them to accommodate homosexuality. He’s concerned, even though a law passed last year says chaplains cannot be punished or denied promotion “if they voice a moral or religious opposition to homosexual sin,” said Klingenschmitt.
Klingenschmitt’s organization, PrayInJesusName.org, along with Rep. Steve Palazzo and Rep. Timothy Huelskamp, is organizing a petition drive to prevent U.S. military chapel buildings from hosting homosexual ceremonies.
The trend toward more rights for homosexual service members could well continue should former Republican senator Chuck Hagel be confirmed as Panetta’s successor as defense secretary. Hagel has apologized for 1998 remarks referring to an ambassadorial nominee as "openly, aggressively gay." And he pledged last week in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to "do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members."
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, has introduced legislation that would extend same-sex benefits to spouses of veterans and service members.
The measure would require the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department to recognize any marriage that has been recognized by the District of Columbia or one of the nine states that have legalized homosexual “marriage.”