Legislation introduced in Congress on Thursday would give gay and lesbian servicemembers access to the spousal rights and benefits their straight counterparts already enjoy.
The legislation, called the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2012, was introduced by Representative Adam Smith who is a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“While the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a tremendous step forward, there is more that can be done to ensure that the rights of all of our services members and their spouse, regardless of whether they are of the same-sex or opposite-sex as the service member, are protected,” said Ranking Member Adam Smith in a press release.
“What this bill does is simple: if veterans or service members have a spouse of the same-sex, then their spouse will be afforded the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. Spouses of service members should not be prevented from receiving the benefits they have earned simply because they are the same sex as their partner. This discriminatory practice must come to an end.”
The Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2012 would change the definition of spouse in the relevant sections of United States code to say: ”an individual shall be considered a ‘spouse’ if the marriage of the individual is valid in the State in which the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place in which the marriage was entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State.”
Currently, the Department of Defense bases its definition on federal law which, per the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, bans recognition of same-sex marriages.
There is also a federal lawsuit underway that challenges this denial of benefits. The lawsuit, McLaughlin v. U.S., was filed in October 2011 and, like the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act, targets Titles 10, 32, and 38 that define married same-sex couples out of accessing any spousal benefits. Backing that lawsuit is the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. For obvious reasons, the new legislation will also be of interest to them.
“Our nation’s senior military leaders and commanders on the ground are increasingly uncomfortable with administering two classes of recognition, support and benefits for our nation’s service members – one for straight service members and a different one for their gay and lesbian peers. There cannot be two classes of service members, and this legislation addresses that effectively,” [said Executive Director Aubry Sarvis.]
“Ranking Member Smith has recognized with the introduction of this legislation today that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal – while a monumental achievement for gay and lesbian service members and all Americans – does not finish the job of ensuring full equality for these brave patriots and their families. We thank him for his leadership and urge his colleagues in both parties and in both houses of Congress to join him and us in this important fight,” said Sarvis.
Sarvis said he expects a companion bill to be introduced soon in the U.S. Senate and that SLDN, working with allies, will seek to gain co-sponsors for the legislation in both bodies.
Given that House Republicans have made concerted moves on at least three separate occasions to try and prevent same-sex marriages being carried out on bases, and have pursued several avenues to shore up the Defense of Marriage Act, it seems unlikely that this legislation will find widespread bipartisan support in the House at this time.