Forum on the Military Chaplaincy

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julianchang On October - 17 - 2012

It’s been one year since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed.  Open service has not harmed the U.S. military’s readiness, cohesiveness, or fighting capability.  There have been no instances or reports that any unit has suffered by having openly gay or lesbian troops serve.

But repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell does not equate to full equality for gay troops.  The adage that equal risk, equal pay, and equal benefits is a promise unfulfilled because gay and lesbian troops and their families do not receive or cannot access equal benefits.

The Center for American Progress reports:

The Pentagon Working Group, or PWG–a commission tasked with developing comprehensive recommendations for implementing DADT repeal–divided benefits into three broad categories for gay service members:

  1. Benefits that cannot be extended to same-sex partners. These benefits are governed by federal statute and specifically include “spouse” within their definition of dependent. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, gay service members and their families do not have equal access to these benefits. These include the Basic Allowance for Housing, health insurance benefits through TRICARE, and countless benefits for military veterans and their families.
  2. Benefits that are not prohibited by statute, but are currently not extended to same-sex partners under Pentagon regulations. Department of Defense regulations tie certain benefits to the government’s restrictive definition of “spouse” under the Defense of Marriage Act. The Department can revise current military rules and regulations to redefine who is eligible for these benefits in order to ensure equitable access for gay service members and their families. Benefits that belong to this group include legal services, military family housing, and on-base commissary and shopping privileges.
  3. Benefits available to anyone of a service member’s choosing. These “member-designated” benefits give service members the discretion to designate whomever they want as a beneficiary. Benefits in this category include Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, hospital visitation rights, and the Thrift Savings Plan. Even under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gay service members could designate their partner as a beneficiary for these benefits. They still could not list them as “partner” or “husband,” however, since that would expose service members’ sexual orientation to Command and result in discharge under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
But as illustrated by this chart, gay and lesbian servicemembers do not enjoy equal benefits because of an existing federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):
The mission of ensuring equality for all troops is not completed.  There is work to do.  The good news is the Pentagon is working on solutions and remedies.  Sadly the fixes will come too late for some.  The only true solution will be parity under the law and that means the repeal of DOMA.

 

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