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House, Senate bills aim to equalize benefits for same-sex military families

Friday, February 15, 2013
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WASHINGTON — A pair of bills introduced in the U.S. Congress this week would change the definition of “spouse” in four areas of U.S. Code related to recognition, support, and benefits for married service members and veterans, in an effort to provide key military benefits for same-sex spouses of gay service members.

The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013, named for New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who passed away earlier this week after a battle with breast cancer, was introduced in the U.S. Senate on Friday, and would to make additional benefits available to all military spouses and families, regardless of sexual orientation.

Morgan died Sunday, leaving behind her wife, Karen, who will not be eligible for survivor benefits because of the military’s policy on same-sex marriages. After Morgan’s diagnosis in 2008, she and her wife spoke repeatedly about how these practices against same-sex couples would devastate their family if Morgan died.

The bill was introduced by Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and is co-sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The story of Charlie Morgan offers a powerful example of why we need immediate action to end LGBT discrimination in our military,” said Shaheen.

“Charlie served on the front lines for our country, but because of her sexual orientation her family is wrongfully being denied many of the same benefits given to those who stood beside her. That is an unacceptable reality and I’m committed to doing all I can to make sure that no spouses, children and families are denied benefits they have earned and rightly deserve.”

“This legislation is an important step forward in achieving full equality for all of our men and women serving and fighting for our nation,” said Gillibrand, in a statement. “Same-sex partners of military service members should not be denied essential benefits because of who they are.”

The bill is the companion to the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 (MSET), re-introduced in the U.S. House Thursday by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member. The bill was first introduced in 2012.

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Under the proposed bills, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs would be required to honor any marriage that has been recognized by a state and provide a number of key benefits to the spouses of all service members.

“Since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ there have been two classes of service members in this country — one that receives the nation’s full recognition, support and benefits and one that does not,” said Allyson Robinson, Executive Director of Outserve-SLDN, an advocacy group for LGBT service members and veterans.

“By making an arbitrary distinction between gay and lesbian troops and their straight comrades, and forcing commanders to play favorites, the law as it stands harms all service members and weakens the force. This legislation fixes that problem,” said Robinson.

According to Outserve-SLDN, there are more than 100 benefits granted to service members, veterans and their families contingent on marital status.

Robinson said that the changes proposed in the bill would still be necessary even if the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were to be struck down or repealed, because they address entirely separate laws governing support and benefits for military members and veterans.

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