Group wants same military benefits for gay spouses

A leading gay rights group says married gay service members should have the same rights as straight couples once President Obama ends the military’s ban on open homosexuality in the ranks.

Equal treatment of legally married gays has emerged as an issue in the debate in Congress, as some Republicans are asking whether the military will deny housing and medical benefits to gay spouses and potentially create morale and readiness problems.

“Gay people serving in the military, defending our country, should have the same rules and same opportunities as any other Americans, no more and no less,” Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, told The Washington Times.

Founded by Mr. Wolfson in 2003, Freedom to Marry bills itself as the “leading campaign working to win marriage nationwide.”

“The irony is that if gay people were saying we should have a special right not to serve, the anti-gay groups would be clamoring to force gay people into the military,” Mr. Wolfson said in a statement. “There is no good reason for denying gay Americans either the ability and duty to serve our country or the freedom to marry, with the same rules, same responsibilities, and same respect as any other committed couples.”

Standing in the way is the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Five states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage. The act says other states do not have to recognize those unions, and it defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

The 1993 law that bans open gays prohibits service members of the same sex from marrying, with the threat of discharge. But if Congress lifts the ban, as Mr. Obama has demanded this year, gays would be free to marry if they meet the six jurisdictions’ requirements.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, has asked Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who wants the ban lifted, what effect DOMA will have on military readiness. Analysts say DOMA likely would prevent the Defense Department from extending benefits to the dependents of married gays.

Mr. McKeon asked Mr. Gates that if heterosexual and gay couples are on different benefits scales: “Would enactment of this limitation create a wide diversity of benefits between legally married heterosexual couples and families and legally married gay couples and families? If so, how would this diversity of benefits affect family readiness, morale and cohesion?”

Mr. McKeon asked Mr. Gates whether the secretary would recommend that Congress repeal DOMA to avoid creating “disparities in the military between legally married heterosexual couples and legally married gay couples.”

A spokesman for Mr. Gates declined to comment to The Times on the marriage issue.

The issue is important because service members’ families are considered part of the overall military team. They receive medical care, on-base housing and schooling, and sometimes move overseas with the military spouse.

The House’s pending repeal legislation would not require the military to provide benefits to the dependents of gays because of DOMA, but it would not ban such benefits.

Setting up a two-tiered system of benefits would amount to discrimination and may stir lawsuits from the gay rights movement and liberal legal groups that want DOMA repealed.

Austin R. Nimocks, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, said he thinks DOMA prevents the military from giving benefits to gay spouses. The group says it is “fighting for religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and marriage and the family.”

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