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Pentagon offers limited benefits to same-sex partners of US troops

The Pentagon said Monday it will offer benefits, for the first time, to same-sex partners of military personnel. Hospital visitation and on-base child care are part of the package; health care and housing are not.

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The Pentagon announced Monday that it will be extending a slew of new benefits to same-sex partners of US troops, including use of on-base shopping centers, child care, hospital visitation, and payments to partners of missing persons.

“It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement released Monday. 

The review that led to the new benefits came on the heels of the September 2011 repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which had prohibited openly gay people from serving in the military.

However, some benefits – including health care – are prohibited under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which Congress approved in 1996 and which states that the federal government defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman.

DOMA is currently the subject of several lawsuits challenging its constitutionality, one of which is expected to be heard by the US Supreme Court in March.

There are also a handful of other benefits that, while legal, would likely be unpopular within the ranks, and the Pentagon has also declined to extend them. Most notable among those benefits is housing. Senior defense officials said they would study the possibility, but make no decisions at this time.

Housing "is not off the table,” said a senior defense official, who briefed reporters at the Pentagon Monday on the condition of anonymity. The official added that he did not believe extending housing benefits to same-sex couples would “violate any of the statutes” that address DOMA.

Among troops, particularly because base housing is in limited supply, “it’s a very sensitive issue,” the same official said. 

This was a key reason the Pentagon decided not to include it in the package of new benefits now available to same-sex partners. “It can be perceived as unfair – that’s a concern,” the official said. 

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