Pentagon extends same-sex benefits

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is preparing to retire, extended benefits such as child care, commissary privileges and transportation to military bases to same-sex partners of service members.

Other benefits provided for spouses, including health care and housing allowances, remain barred because the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of gay marriage, continues to apply to the Defense Department, Panetta said Monday in a memo to service chiefs.

Panetta has changed social policy in the military during his 1 1/2 years as defense secretary. Last month, he ordered an end to the ban on women serving in direct combat roles after earlier overseeing the lifting of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prohibited gay service members from disclosing their sexual orientation.

“The implementation of the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law has been led effectively by leaders throughout the chain of command and is now essentially completed,” Panetta said in his memo. “It is therefore time to address the question of the benefits we will extend to same-sex domestic partners of military service members.”

Panetta said certain benefits, such as on-base housing and burial, will remain prohibited while they are further reviewed because they “present complex legal and political challenges.”

The new benefits being opened to same-sex partners should be available by Aug. 31 and no later than Oct. 1, Panetta said. To qualify, the service member and his or her partner must sign “a declaration attesting to the existence of their committed relationship,” Panetta said.

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