Same-sex military benefits will soon be a reality
, according to the Department of Defense, which on Wednesday announceed that beginning in September, spousal and family benefits will be made available to gay individuals who are married either to military personnel or DOD civilian employees.
The announcement was a reaction to Supreme Court's decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June
Included in the soon-to-be available benefits to all legally married military spouses is health care coverage, housing allowances, and survivor benefits.
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Same-sex spouses can retroactively claim the entitlements beginning with the date of the decision, The New York Times reported
"The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the U.S. military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote in a memo released by the Pentagon.
"This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department, and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married," Hagel added.
In order to be eligible for the military benefits, a marriage certificate "that is valid in the place of celebration" must be provided by the couple.
To accommodate couples who might live in states where same-sex marriage is not legal, the Pentagon said that leave would be granted to allow for them to travel to a jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is recognized by law so that they could be wed.
Those stationed within the continental United States would receive 7 days of leave for travel whereas military members outside the U.S. might receive up to 10 days of leave.
Presently 13 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, The Times notes.
Calling it "preferential treatment," Oklahoma Senator James M. Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, took issue with the leave allowance for gay service members in the new policy.
"Military leave is granted by statute, and while there are special provisions in law for adoptions, childbirth and emergency situations, to my knowledge there are no special provisions for marriage, same-sex or otherwise," Inhofe said in a statement last week.
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In February, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon would extend some limited benefits to same-sex partners of service members no later than Oct. 1.
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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