WASHINGTON — Following Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s recent announcement that the Department of Defense would extend some benefits to same-sex couples, advocates quickly turned to another stumbling block — the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on its constitutionality this summer.
Today, the Center for American Progress and OutServe-SLDN released a report, “Collateral Damage: How the Defense of Marriage Act Harms the Troops and Undermines the U.S. Military,” which details exactly how DOMA negatively affects gay service members and their families, even with Secretary Panetta’s reforms, and how it will continue to undermine our military unless the law is struck down.
“The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere in the United States,” said Katie Miller, author of the report.
“Now that nine states have broken down that barrier, it is time that the integrity of all marriages is defended by federal law. No man or woman who dedicates their life to the protection of our country should have to worry about their families being cared for in their absence. Creating two classes of service members is no way to treat our troops and no way to run our military.”
While the Pentagon was able to extend a number of benefits independent of DOMA’s repeal, it is Congress that grants the most important and financially robust benefits to service members and relies on the definition of marriage set forth in DOMA that excludes same-sex married couples.
Nearly 100 of the statutory benefits conferred on our troops depend on this definition of marital status and are denied same-sex military spouses and their children — including housing and moving benefits, health insurance, and employment assistance. In fact, DOMA would deny legal spouses immediate emergency notification if their husband or wife was killed, wounded, or missing in action and deny them the right to be laid to rest beside them in a military cemetery.
Capt. Matthew Phelps, an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, who made headlines when he became the first gay man to propose marriage to his partner at the White House, expects to receive orders for Okinawa, Japan, at the end of summer. As long as DOMA remains in effect and the cost of his moving is taken into consideration, Capt. Phelps may expect to receive about $20,000 less in benefits and allowances than the other married servicemen that he serves beside.
“As much as military leaders at all levels may wish to treat the troops under their command with equity, they are forced by federal law to discriminate,” said Allyson D. Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN. “As a result, gay and lesbian service members are denied access to critical benefits and meaningful support programs the services provides to help families face the unique challenges of military life. This denial weakens the force itself.”