Photo: Chad McNeeley via dvidshub
Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell subsequently led to a fight over spousal benefits. That fight, it turns out, might just lead to a fight over federal recognition of marriage, and possibly a more concerted push for repeal of the 1996 defence of Marriage Act.As it is now, the Washington Post reports that the Pentagon plans to extend more benefits to the spouses of gay and lesbian servicemembers. The decision will likely exclude benefits that would violate DOMA.
Reuters talked to a Pentagon spokesperson about the decision:
“The department is conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners,” Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde said in an email.
Benefits currently available to heterosexual military spouses include access to base shopping facilities, on-base housing, and medical coverage under the military’s TRICARE health program, among others.
“Member-designated benefits,” like receiving a flag at a funeral or a life insurance policy, are the only benefits allowed to gay spouses, due in part to the service member’s legal ability to designate any recipient as a beneficiary.
Yet, where heterosexual spouses are given death notifications automatically, same-sex spouses need to manually list their partner’s name as a beneficiary.
Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson was one of three members of her unit killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Since her spouse, Tracy Johnson, was not officially recognised by the military, she never received formal notification of death, the American flag that draped the coffin, or death benefits. They all went to the soldier’s mother, according to NBC News.
“Donna didn’t even realise she had to put me down. She thought I was automatically extended that benefit as her wife — just like all the other Army wives who are the first ones to notified,” Tracy Johnson told NBC News.
The decision to extend some benefits, while withholding others, could possibly highlight rather than alleviate the perception that some spouses are in a different class than others, based solely on sexual preference.
“We were adults, big girls, and we knew what we were getting ourselves into,” Johnson said to NBC. “But it doesn’t mean I have to stand idly by and see all this happen to somebody else who’s in a same-sex marriage (in the military).”
The law barred federal recognition of any same-sex marriages, and said states would not be required to recognise them. After two appeals courts have struck down DOMA, the Supreme Court plans to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of that law next month.
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