The U.S. Supreme Court's striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday has cleared the way for military members and their same-sex spouses to receive the same benefits as married heterosexual couples.
"We think it's the right decision, and we're looking forward to taking that decision and implementing the required next steps," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon.
After a customary 25-day waiting period following Supreme Court rulings, the Pentagon will begin to make available to homosexual spouses all the benefits that heterosexual spouses enjoy, including burial at military cemeteries, defense officials said.
The Pentagon already had planned to begin issuing military ID cards to the same-sex partners of military personnel, starting Sept. 1. Issuing the cards will take between six to 12 weeks, officials said Wednesday.
The cards will entitle same-sex spouses to benefits such as access to counseling and low-price commissaries, medical and dental care, housing and transportation allowances, survivor benefits and other bonuses that had been denied to them under DOMA.
Officials said they are reviewing whether same-sex spouses will be able to travel overseas with their deployed partners.
"The Joint Staffs have been very clear that we'll follow the law of the land," said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who spoke to reporters with Mr. Hagel. "The law of the land has just changed, and we will now as quickly as possible assess what that means."
Ashley Broadway, who is married to Army Lt. Col. Heather L. Mack, praised the Pentagon's announcement.
"I just went to Fort Bragg and saw an American flag. I looked at that American flag like I've never looked at it before because I truly, truly feel that I am equal," said Ms. Broadway, who is director of family affairs at the American Military Partner Association.
"We're finally one military ... we're not going to have two classes for our military personnel and their families," said Ms. Broadway, who has two children with Col. Mack.
Tracey Hepner, who is married to the highest-ranking openly gay flag officer — Army Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith — said she was overwhelmed by the court ruling.
"We are a proud military family and hold our heads a little higher today," Ms. Hepner said.
The Pentagon in February moved to extend some benefits to same-sex spouses, such as being able to visit their partners in military hospitals and receive notification of a casualty.
For Pentagon civilians, the department will look to the Office of Personnel Management for guidance, but same-sex spouses of civilians who are eligible for military ID card-related benefits will receive their cards at the same time as same-sex military spouses.
The benefits also apply to same-sex spouses in states that do not recognize gay marriage, Pentagon officials said.
The change comes a day after Pentagon leaders hailed the 2011 reversal of the ban on openly gay service members at a gay pride event.
"Today's ruling helps ensure that all men and women who serve this country can be treated fairly ad equally, with the full dignity and respect they so richly deserve," Mr. Hagel said Wednesday.
He said costs of implementing the decision will be reviewed as the Defense Department moves forward with implementation.
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