WASHINGTON – U.S. officials said Tuesday that outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is poised to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of military members.
The policy change would come about 16 months after the Pentagon repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” its ban on openly gay service members.
Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity Tuesday because they were not authorized to discuss the plans publicly, said Panetta has not made a final decision on which benefits will be included, but the Pentagon is likely to allow same-sex partners to have access to the on-base commissary and other military subsidized stores, as well as health and welfare programs.
Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson responded Tuesday that the organization hopes Panetta will take full advantage of this final opportunity to act before leaving office.
“Secretary Panetta established a strong civil rights record long before taking office at the Pentagon, so his unwillingness to extend support and recognition to gay and lesbian service members and their families where it is clearly within his authority to do so has baffled many of us,” said Robinson.
“We are hopeful that he will not take half-measures here; for him to grant anything less than the full extent of benefits available under current law would be an anticlimactic end to an otherwise exemplary record on civil rights,” she said.
Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign, echoed those sentiments.
“We welcome the news that benefits will be extended to the same-sex spouses and partners of gay and lesbian service members, and urge Secretary Panetta to make sure every benefit possible under the law is included,” said Griffin, in a statement. “This is the logical next step in ensuring all our military families are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
“The military leadership have dragged their feet long enough,” Griffin added. “Two years after ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was relegated to the dustbin of history, it’s time for our heroes in arms to finally receive the justice they deserve.”
Officials said the military is likely to require that some type of document be signed to designate the military member’s partner as a legitimate recipient of the benefits.