by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
Momentum appears to be building for ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT), the ban on Gays in the military. If Gay servicemembers are allowed to serve openly, the U.S. military will face another tough question: Should Gay partners be entitled to military benefits?
On March 25, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered new rules that could make it harder to discharge Gays and Lesbians under DADT. Many have applauded Gates for his leadership on the issue, which is seen as a temporary measure while Congress weighs whether to go along with President Barack Obama's request to repeal the discriminatory law.
In 1973, the military draft ended in the U.S. Faced with the responsibility of recruiting new troops, the armed forces began using, among other things, spousal benefits as an incentive for people to join the service. According to the Department of Defense (DoD), each service must retain and recruit a certain number of troops yearly in order to maintain an effective fighting force. Today, with two wars going on at the same time, recruiting and retention have become a top priority for military brass.
According to the DoD, more than half of all troops are married.
Over the years, spousal benefits have changed and changed again. Today, benefits for married servicemembers include college tuition for a spouse and the right for a spouse to be at a wounded servicemember's bedside. More commonly known, spouses enjoy access to military health care and tax-free commissaries worldwide. Also, married servicemembers receive first pick of on-base housing and extra pay when they are shipped off to war.
The one and only requirement for those benefits is a marriage certificate.
Unfortunately, Gay marriage is only legal in five states and Washington, D.C. If DADT were repealed, would the armed forces recognize such marriages? In addition, would they honor same-sex domestic partnerships or civil unions?
Most likely not. The reason? The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
"It is unrealistic to think the military would be out front of the rest of the government in offering benefits to unmarried partners," said Nathaniel Frank, a senior research fellow at the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "They don't do it for straight people, and they are unlikely to do it for Gay people."
Luckily, there does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Gates has included the issue of benefits in a review of how to lift the repeal, which is due December 1. Also, in addition to repealing DADT, Obama has called for getting rid of DOMA and has moved to extend some federal benefits for same-sex partners.
The State Department extended benefits to Gay diplomats, such as the right for their domestic partners to hold diplomatic passports and for paid travel to and from foreign posts - the military could feasibly work through the DOMA red tape similarly. In other words, if military brass wanted to extend equal benefits, they could make it happen.
U.S. military officials have expressed concern that recruitment might suffer if they open the door to Gay servicemembers and their families.
Some repeal proponents say that lifting the ban should be the focus, and not the "what ifs" related to benefits. For others, the thorny question of benefits should be included in the repeal language, otherwise it may take years to clear it up should DADT be rep
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