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US Military May Grant Gay Members Special 10-Day Leave to Marry

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By Melanie Batley   |   Thursday, 08 Aug 2013 07:05 AM

Gay soldiers could be given an extra 10 days leave so they can get married in a state that allows same-sex unions, under new proposals from defense secretary Chuck Hagel.

The new rules would replace earlier proposals to give limited benefits to same-sex couples through a system that would require a couple to declare they were committed to one another to receive limited benefits.

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Hagel's new proposals would also extend housing and health care benefits to same-sex spouses of members of the military, but while those proposals merely give gays the same benefits as straight members of the military, the gay marriage travel leave would give them extra time-off not available to others.

The proposal was outlined in a draft memo from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, that was obtained by the Associated Press.

"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 AP.

Without the declaration system, Hagel reasons provisions should be made to allow same-sex partners to obtain legal unions and hence the full set of federal benefit to which they would now be entitled. To achieve that he proposes granting gay partners up to 10 days of leave to get married in a state that legalizes the practice.

"Although we have bases and installations in all 50 states, not all state laws are equal when it comes to same-sex marriage," a defense official told AP. "That is why we are looking at providing extra leave for same-sex couples who want to get married to travel to a state where same-sex marriages are legal."

The memo is currently under legal review by the Justice Department and the Pentagon, according to AP.

Pentagon officials would not comment on the specifics of the memo. A Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, told the AP only that the Pentagon "is working alongside the Department of Justice to implement the court's decision as quickly as possible."

In February, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that by no later than Oct. 1 the Pentagon would extend some limited benefits to same-sex partners of service members. Housing benefits were not included, but the plans called for same-sex partners to get special identification cards granting them access to commissaries and other services.

The benefits would be contingent on the service member and his or her same-sex partner signing a declaration that they were in a committed relationship.

At the time, officials said that if the Supreme Court ruled on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the issue would be revisited. The act prohibited the federal government from recognizing any marriage other than that between a man and a woman.

In late June, the court cleared the way for legally married gay couples to be recognized under federal law and also allowed same-sex marriages in California to resume. It did not issue any sweeping declarations that would allow same-sex couples to marry anywhere in the country.

When the ruling was announced, Hagel said the Pentagon would reassess the department's decisions on benefits for same-sex couples and also begin the process of extending benefits to same-sex spouses of military members.

In the new draft memo, Hagel says the department intends to treat all married military personnel the same and "make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation."

But, recognizing that same-sex couples are only allowed to marry in a limited number of states, Hagel said the provision allowing service members to travel to states where the unions are legal is a way to help overcome those challenges.

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Defense officials estimate there are 18,000 same-sex couples in the active-duty military, National Guard and Reserves. It's unclear how many of those are married.

The repeal of the ban on openly gay military service took effect in September 2011.

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