In a landmark decision, United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta Monday announced to extend benefits being accorded to same sex partners serving within the American armed services.
"It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country. The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated. Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members," he said.
"Taking care of our service members and honouring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation. Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation," Panetta said.
Panetta said one of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land.
There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law, which is now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court, he said.
"While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defence, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation. Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families," he said.
"While the implementation of additional benefits will require substantial policy revisions and training, it is my expectation that these benefits will be made available as expeditiously as possible. One of the great successes at the Department of Defence has been the implementation of DADT repeal. It has been highly professional and has strengthened our military community. I am confident in the military services' ability to effectively implement these changes over the coming months," Panetta said.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Congressman Adam Smith welcomed the announcement terming it as another big step toward equality in the military.
"Just as no individual should be forced to hide who they love to serve their county, no individual should be deprived of the benefits they have earned simply because of who they have married," he said.