The US Supreme Court today overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), clearing a major roadblock to equal benefits for all married servicemembers, regardless of their genders. This is a huge financial, emotional, and social change for same-sex families with one or both partners serving.
Prior to this decision, same-sex married couples were prevented from sharing in many of the benefits that the military provides to mixed-sex married couples. With the overturn of DOMA, the Department of Defense (DoD) will be looking at the relevant laws to see if same-sex military spouses will be eligible for all of the benefits of other military spouses. This includes Tricare medical coverage, increased housing allowances, commissary and exchange shopping privileges, and PCS move entitlements. Importantly, the list includes survivor benefits.
While there are legal questions to be worked out, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released the following statement shortly after the decision was announced:
“The Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision today on the Defense of Marriage Act,” it read. “The Department will immediately begin the process of implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in consultation with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies. The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible. That is now the law, and it is the right thing to do.
Every person who serves our nation in uniform stepped forward with courage and commitment. All that matters is their patriotism, their willingness to serve their country and their qualifications to do so. Today’s ruling helps ensure that all men and women who serve this country can be treated fairly and equally, with the full dignity and respect they so richly deserve.”
While most people will say that the important part is that these marriages are legitimately recognized, the financial benefits will be huge for the individual families involved. In addition to the military benefits that will be extended to same-sex couples, other federal benefits could also be allowed. This includes income tax, estate tax, pension, and health care benefits.
The DoD has not yet announced when it expects to explain the impacts of the repeal of DOMA on benefits for same-sex married persons in the military. In February, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that same-sex partners would be permitted to obtain military IDs and designated a 1 October 2013 deadline for implementing the change. Advocates for the change feel that the DoD has been preparing for this change and that it should become reality quickly. However, others argue that there are myriad legal and logistical issues to be resolved before the full effect of DOMA’s repeal can be realized.