Gay Military Personnel May Be Given 10 Day Extra Leave to Marry Under New Benefits Proposals

Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be Defense Secretary, on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 31, 2013. Hagel, 66, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a former two-term Republican senator. (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Same-sex married couples in the military may be able to receive federal benefits such as health care by the end of the summer, and same-sex partners may receive extra time off duty to receive a marriage license, a draft proposal released by the Defense Department said Wednesday.

Following the Supreme Court's ruling in June that struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, thus allowing same-sex married couples to receive federal benefits, the Defense Department decided to alter its policy for providing benefits to gay military spouses.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the department's policy allowed same-sex partners to sign a declaration vowing that they were in a committed relationship, after which they could receive limited benefits from the military, such as access to military stores. The new draft proposal will extend health care and other benefits to same-sex spouses by the end of August.

Additionally, it will grant same-sex partners a 10-day leave from service so they may travel to a state where same-sex marriage is legal and receive a marriage license, thus enabling them to receive the full list of benefits provided to same-sex spouses. While the new policy awards the same benefits to both straight and gay couples in the military, the extra time offer is not available to all service members, only gay partners.

"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," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote in a draft memo obtained by the Associated Press Wednesday.

Hagel reportedly adds in the memo that the Defense Department's new policy intends to treat all military personnel equally by "[making] the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation."

In February, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta introduced the previous benefits plan for same-sex military partners, which provided them with limited benefits such as access to military stores and some welfare programs. In order for same-sex partners to receive these benefits, they were required to sign a "Declaration of Domestic Partnership" agreement provided by the DoD that states the couple must be in a "committed relationship between two adults, of the same sex."

The Defense Department clarified that the policy may be revised depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling.

At the time, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned that awarding same-sex couples limited benefits in the military was a "slippery slope."

"Once again, the President is eroding our military's apolitical stance and forcing conformity onto the rest of society by pushing his liberal social agenda through the Department of Defense," Inhofe said in February. 

Following the Supreme Court's ruling in June that awarded federal tax, health and retirement benefits to same-sex couples, Secretary Hagel announced the Defense Department's plan to change its policy to "match" the Supreme Court ruling.

"The department will immediately begin the process of implementing the Supreme Court's decision in consultation with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies. The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses -- regardless of sexual orientation -- as soon as possible. That is now the law and it is the right thing to do," Hagel said in a statement in June.

Hagel's new draft policy reportedly must be legally reviewed by the Justice Department and the Pentagon before it is finalized. The goal of the Defense Department is to have the new benefits policy available to same-sex couples by the end of August.

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