Despite DADT Repeal, No Spousal Benefits for Gay Soldiers


The Pentagon recently reiterated that gay and lesbian servicemembers will still not be treated equally even after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) is repealed because the Pentagon is prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages per the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and other military rules that ban same-sex marriage recognition — and no recognition means no spousal benefits.

The real impact of this is that soldiers in same-sex relationships will be denied on-base housing and expenses for off-base housing, certain health insurance coverage, certain death related benefits, legal counselling and a whole host of other provisions given to married opposite-sex couples.

With the number of gay and lesbian servicemembers in same-sex relationships set to rise, advocates are pointing out how this unequal treatment could, itself, impact morale and the well being of lesbian and gay troops. They say it will quickly add pressure for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Those opposed to both a DADT and DOMA repeal have already hit back saying that heterosexual troops might find it “offensive.”

From The New York Times:

“What’s pretty obvious is that there is going to be a collision soon between an open and integrated military and a federal law that prevents what I consider unit cohesion,” said Rick Jacobs, chairman and founder of the Courage Campaign, an advocacy group for gay men and lesbians in the military. “You will have different people treated very differently.”

But Elaine Donnelly, whose policy organization, the Center for Military Readiness, is opposed to ending the ban on openly gay troops, said extending equal benefits to same-sex couples would be not just costly but also offensive to some heterosexual couples. “These are things Congress should have considered last year before they voted to repeal the policy,” said Ms. Donnelly, the center’s president.

Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, said the department was studying whether smaller benefits, like free legal services, could be extended to same-sex spouses. But she said there would be “no change” in eligibility for major benefits like housing and health care when “don’t ask, don’t tell” goes away.

“The Defense of Marriage Act and the existing definition of a “dependent” in some laws prohibit extension of many military benefits to same-sex couples,” she said.

The New York Times points out that there are certain benefits that can be secured, such as in the case of on-base housing where same-sex couples may be eligible if they have dependent children.

It is also important to stress that DOMA being struck down by the courts, as seems more likely in the near term than legislative action, would not remedy the benefits problem because the military is governed by other laws that would also have to be amended. Such a process could take years, though it is conceivable that, as suggested above, military officials may move to at least partially remedy this inequity by working around the restrictions imposed by the Defense of Marriage Act.

It cannot be denied, however, that until DOMA is repealed, gay and lesbian servicemembers will continue to be discriminated against and suffer a lesser status, at least institutionally, than their heterosexual counterparts. One might also venture that such unequal treatment cannot be good for unit cohesion either.

Related Reading:

Obama “Proud” to Endorse DOMA Repeal Bill

Maine Next Hope for Gay Marriage?

Obama’s LGBT Pride Month Speech (VIDEO)


Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to the U.S. Army Photostream.


Nat R.
Nat R.7 years ago

So what? Tell these soldiers...WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD...Most same sex couples have no benefits, no FMLA, no bereavement leave, no sick time off to care for a spouse (married in a state). What makes this a new topic?

My friend works for a company that uses the DOMA to justify why they do not give health benefits. When they were challenged that the DOMA does not restrict this, the company then restated it saying the follow the DOMA definition of a spouse and healthcare is for spouses only or kids.

When he asked about bereavement leave for the death of a partner of 20 years, the company said he could take off using vacation which is available for the death of a "close friend or distant relative"... how is that for a kick in the teeth?

As far as it being costly, tell that to the couple that has 7 kids or the 100 new couples that get married every day....

Joy Jin
Joy Jin7 years ago

DOMA needs to repealed next. DADT was only the first step.

Beth M.
Beth M7 years ago

So let's keep working to get DOMA repealed!

Bruce S.
Bruce S7 years ago

What did you expect? If you think you're going to get Social Security & Medicare (which are already going broke) based on a same sex marriage, GOOD LUCK!

K s Goh
KS Goh7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Mary L.
Mary L7 years ago

I saw a study some time ago the questioned active duty military. The older the survey respondent, the more negative the perception of behavior, The youngest were confused, they thought that DADT and DOMA were already dead issues.

I really hope it doesn't take another multi-year struggle to end this particular piece of bigoted stupidity.

Sharon S.
Sharon W7 years ago

Just so we get this right - they have no objection to the "gay" soldiers serving their country, being injured/maimed for their country, dying for their country but let's not give their significant other a place to live, or benefits should their partner be killed?? How pathetic is that bigotry?? And what country is this again???

Rosie M.
Rosie M7 years ago

"...extending equal benefits to same-sex couples would be not just costly but also offensive to some heterosexual couples"

What people need to realize is that you have no Constitutional right to never be offended; however, people certainly have the Right to equal treatment under the law. As far as the benefits being costly, that's a red herring. Considering that the number of additional spouses would be relatively small in comparison to who they currently cover, this is a weak argument that just sounds desperate. Petty, even.

Past Member 7 years ago

"But Elaine Donnelly, whose policy organization, the Center for Military Readiness, is opposed to ending the ban on openly gay troops, said extending equal benefits to same-sex couples would be not just costly but also offensive to some heterosexual couples."

Actually, it is the vile, ignorant and hate-filled bigots and ignoramuses like Elaine Donnelly and her ilk who are offensive to common decency and the values our service member fight for - and die - to protect. If her fellow travelers are that bent out of shape and offended by the equal treatment under law of, and having to associate with, people they so personally despise, then there is another uniform for them to wear -- it is white, and comes with a matching hood.

Robert O.
Robert O7 years ago

It's a shame that there are still no spousal benefits for gay soldiers but hopefully that will come in time. The DADT battle may have been won, but the war for equality goes on. One day at a time, one step at a time. Now all we have to do is get rid of that stupid DOMA law and then there'll be even more progress. Thanks Steve.