Same-Sex Military Families One Step Closer to Receiving Equal Benefits

New Benefits Available to Same-Sex Couples

In the last three years the military has made a number of substantial movements toward gender and same-sex equality for service members and partners of those serving in the armed forces.  Recently, Leon Panetta, as one of his last acts as Secretary of Defense, announced a list of new benefits that will be available to same-sex partners of military personnel.

New Benefits Available to Same-Sex Partners of Military Personnel who sign a “Domestic Partnership Declaration” will include the following:

  • Military id cards will be issued to the partners, which will allow them greater access to military bases and commissaries;
  • Same-sex partner will now have access and the right to visit their partners in military hospitals;
  • They will also be able to receive many survivor benefits, including life insurance payments.

Despite this most recent step in the right direction, there are still many benefits that are not available to same-sex military spouses. The right to get medical and dental insurance through your spouse, certain survivor benefits, and housing allowances are still not available to same-sex partners. The reason they are not available is because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman does not recognize the legality of same-sex marriage.

DOMA is currently under review by the Supreme Court, and could potentially be overturned if the Court finds it unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Oral arguments are schedule for March and a decision is expected in June 2013.

Since DOMA took effect in 1996 it has created many problems for same-sex partners and their families, and especially for those families with partners serving in the military. The issue I see most often is that a service member’s retirement pension is not assignable in a divorce. Especially with the economic downturn in recent years often times the largest asset in a marriage is one of the spouse’s pension. There are creative ways to distribute the remaining assets so that the spouse not legally permitted to receive a share of the other spouse’s pension is still able to support themselves, but this requires special knowledge that many family law attorneys are not familiar with.

I hope by June of this year my same-sex clients will be entitled to the same treatment and benefits as my heterosexual clients, but until DOMA is officially overturned there are important rules and regulations same-sex couples considering divorce must be aware of. For more information please call me for a free 30 minute consultation