Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected to announce the extension of benefits for families of gay and lesbian servicemembers this week, reports the Washington Post.
“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,” says OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson. “We are hopeful that he will not take half-measures here,” she added. “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.”
Advocates have been fighting for equal access to housing and base recreational facilities, and joint-duty assignments for same-sex military couples. The Armed Forces is expected to confer at least some of these benefits, even while DOMA is still the law of the land. And former Sen. Chuck Hagel, currently being considered as Panetta’s successor, has said he would work to speedily enact these benefits if confirmed.
A group of lawmakers lead by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) has urged Panetta to move on the benefits before he leaves office. “As long as they remain in place, these restrictions have the effect of perpetuating discrimination against same-sex spouses and their families,” the letter explained. “Current policy is treating same sex service members, their spouses and families as second class citizens.”