Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last week that the Pentagon is extending benefits to same-sex military couples, including legal assistance, childcare, and disability and death compensation.
The Department of Defense's (DoD) expanded benefits also includes the children of same-sex couples. Military couples seeking expanded benefits are required to sign a "Declaration of Domestic Partnership" agreement provided by the DoD, which states that the couple must be in a "committed relationship between two adults, of the same sex."
Same-sex couples must also meet nine qualifications, including: they must be 18 or older, occupy the same residence, and neither person can be married (legally or common law), to anyone else.
According to Panetta, President Obama gave him and the DoD the directive "to review the benefits currently provided to the families of service members."
"We have identified additional family member and dependent benefits that we can lawfully provide to same-sex domestic partners and their children, through changes in Department of Defense policies and regulations," Panetta said in a statement.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is opposed to the Administration's actions. "Once again, the President is eroding our military's apolitical stance and forcing conformity onto the rest of society by pushing his liberal social agenda through the Department of Defense," Inhofe said. "In a weak attempt to not violate the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Administration is using a play on words by saying 'same-sex domestic partners' can have access to benefits instead of 'spouses.'"
"We are on a slippery slope here," Inhofe said. "Why would the Department of Defense, extend benefits to same-sex partners and then deny cohabiting heterosexual couples the same benefits? The DoD is essentially creating a new class of beneficiary that will increase costs and demand for limited resources that are currently available for military families, active and reserve forces, and retirees. President Obama continues to expand the government's financial obligations to support his liberal social agenda during a time when this Administration has imposed drastic budget cuts to our military readiness and national security."
Panetta added that extending benefits to same-sex military couples is a natural progression following the Administration's repeal of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies that went into effect during the Clinton administration.
"We have implemented the repeal of that policy and made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in the Department of Defense," Panetta said. "Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation."
"One of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land," Panetta said. "There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law, which is now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation."
If a same-sex couple who has signed the Declaration of Domestic partnership agreement decides to end their relationship, the person who is serving in the military is required to notify their branch of service within 30 days. Failure to notify the military could result in disciplinary action, or even criminal action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Likewise, the military can take action to recover the cost of benefits.