GOP Senator targets revised marriage leave policy for gay service members

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)

WASHINGTON — A ranking Republican member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee said this week that a newly revised Pentagon policy granting marriage leave for gay service members “legally fails to fix the issue of giving same-sex couples a special benefit.”

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has challenged a Defense Department directive allowing service members to receive an administrative leave to obtain a legal marriage if they are stationed more than 100 miles from a jurisdiction that allows the couple to be married.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)

The policy change, announced last month, is part of the benefits package granted to married service members, and expanded to include gay members and their spouses as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The change is designed to “provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department, and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married,” according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.

Inhofe, in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said the policy change creates a special benefit for same-sex couples, and questioned whether the Defense Department has the authority to grant uncharged leave.

In his response, Hagel said, “There is long-standing precedent that commanders have discretionary authority to grant liberty to service members. An administrative absence to obtain a legal marriage falls within this authority.”

Inhofe said he was “disappointed” in the response, and that creating an “administrative leave benefit” violates the Pentagon’s own expressed policy “that they will ‘treat all military personnel equally.’” He said he didn’t know of a situation in which heterosexual members would be eligible for that same leave.

Stephen L. Peters, a spokesperson for the American Military Partner Association, which assists LGBT military families, said “the flaw in the Senator’s logic is that same-sex marriage is currently only 13 states and the District of Columbia.”

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“The policy remains an answer to the inequality that same-gender military couples face who are stationed in states that deny them the ability to marry, thereby denying them the ability to access military support and benefits in order to care for their family and focus on the mission first,” said Peters.

Heterosexuals won’t benefit, Peters noted, because they already are able to marry anywhere, “which is the fundamental point of the policy.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing September 19 on several key senior Defense appointments, including Jessica L. Wright, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, who is nominated to become Undersecretary of Defense. She is expected to face questions on this revised policy from Inhofe and other conservatives on the committee.

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