Hagel: Pentagon will grant full benefits to same-sex couples

Hagel said that the Pentagon will work with the Justice Department and other executive branch agencies as it makes the legal changes.  

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“Today's ruling helps ensure that all men and women who serve this country can be treated fairly and equally, with the full dignity and respect they so richly deserve,” Hagel said.

In February, the Pentagon had extended more than 40 new benefits to spouses of gay and lesbian service members, but many key benefits were not extended due to federal restrictions under DOMA.

At the time, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had said in a directive that "in the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense ... married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits."

The Pentagon estimated that the process will take between six and 12 weeks to be finalized, and costs were being assessed.

There were still some issues that had to be resolved, such as command sponsorships for overseas tours and how they applied to the Status of Forces Agreements that the U.S. has with other countries.

After the decision was issued Wednesday, advocates urged Hagel to begin granting all benefits to same-sex military couples as soon as possible.

“We expect Secretary Hagel to act so that all families affected by today’s ruling gain access to full recognition, benefits, and support no later than sixty days from today,” said OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson.

Democrats also called for swift movement to begin granting benefits.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) sent letters to Hagel and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki urging them to embrace “the spirit and law” of the court’s decision “as quickly as possible.”

Shaheen had introduced legislation earlier this year that would have made military benefits available to same -sex spouses. “It would be my hope that I no longer need to pursue the passage” of the bill, Shaheen wrote.

Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that he planned to take up Shaheen’s bill next month “if VA cannot implement the Supreme Court’s decision without congressional action.”

Republicans indicated they are unlikely to object to the Pentagon’s implementation of the end of DOMA.

“I pick fights that I can win, and right now my fight is on overregulation,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Both Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said they were still reviewing the decision and consulting with legal experts, but they did not signal any plans to try to stop the Pentagon.

“My general belief is that something as foundational as marriage, elected officials at every level of government should make these decisions — not judges — but the court’s ruled and I respect that,” Graham said Wednesday.

Updated at 4:41 p.m.