Why the Supreme Court's DOMA Decision Is Limiting the Pentagon's Gay Benefits

The Atlantic

Do tell, and do ask the Supreme Court, the Obama administration has firmly pronounced. Later this week, the Pentagon will unveil the extension of as many benefits as it legally can to gay and lesbian military partners, the Washington Post reports. The only issue is that the Pentagon has to be careful they don't violate anything in the Defense of Marriage Act. Even though President Obama has urged lawmakers not to enforce DOMA, it still hasn't been repealed. And until a Supreme Court decision arrives this summer, an increasingly open Defense Department needs to tread lightly on benefits that simply remain unavailable.

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But that won't stop the Pentagon from extending an estimated 100 benefits to same-sex couples after this week's announcements. It's unclear right now which specific benefits will be granted, so we'll have to wait and see. 

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The move is going to be Leon Panetta's "one last thing" action before exiting as Defense Secretary, and he will likely be remembered as one of the most progressive members to ever hold the position. He oversaw the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in his first month in office, and lifted the ban on women serving in combat in his second-to-last. (A vote on Chuck Hagel's confirmation is expected as early as Thursday, despite continuing objections from Senate Republicans like Lindsey Graham.)

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Obama himself has come a long way on openly supporting gay rights, too, from public stonewalling to mentioning Stonewall in his second inaugural address. The most recent examples were his emphatic and simple answer of "yes" to a Super Bowl interview question about gays in the Boy Scouts, a decision on which is expected Wednesday. And there were these direct remarks at last month's inauguration, which may indicate change to come — or at the very least a signal to the Court as it takes up the case in the spring:

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. 

The extension of benefits to military families is a small step towards achieving that larger goal, but the Court will take a big step when it takes up DOMA as well as Prop 8 this year — a decision is expected sometime in June.

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