IT'S COMPLICATED

A Year After Repeal Of DADT, Partners And Families Of LGBT Servicemembers Still Awaiting Benefits

It’s been a full year since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” yet the Pentagon, it seems, is dragging its boots when it comes to extending benefits to the same-sex partners and families of LGBT people serving in the military.

Speaking with Buzzfeed, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez claimed “laws and policies surrounding benefits are complex and interconnected, and it takes time to go through them, along with requirements that come with them.”

Neither Lainez nor Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson would or could give a deadline for the review, though Johnson — speaking at the Pentagon’s first Pride Month event in June — assured that “it’s coming along.”

It’s been coming along even before DADT’s repeal: A Pentagon working group generated a report to review its implications in November 2010, dedicating five pages to the issue of “benefits for same-sex partners and the families of gay and lesbian service members, in the event of repeal.”

So what’s so damn complex about giving benefits to service members’ families and same-sex partners? The same thing that’s so damn complex about giving benefits to any LGBT person’s families and same-sex partners on a federal level: the Defense of Marriage Act.

However, Buzzfeed points out:

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network provided the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on August 11, 2011, with a list of 11 areas of changes that it maintains could be made that would not violate DOMA or other federal laws defining marriage.

“It’s long past time for the Pentagon to expand all recognition, support, and benefits within its current authority to gay and lesbian service members and their families. We know what’s possible under current law,” said Zeke Stokes, the spokesman for SLDN, the legal group that played a major role in ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “It’s time to act.”

The Pentagon working group review’s description of these benefits, which are the third category described by Lainez, was blunt: “For these, the Department of Defense and the Services have the regulatory flexibility to define the eligible beneficiaries in way that includes same-sex partners.” The benefits run from the obvious — like allowing same-sex spouses to obtain military I.D. cards so they are able to get on military bases to pick up their children without their servicemember spouse — to more military-specific benefits — like allowing joint duty assignments for same-sex couples where both partners are in the military.

Though the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has officially been a rip-roaring success, it’s a hollow victory if gay service members can be visible in the military, but their families and partners remain invisible.