Pentagon to grant benefits to same-sex couples by September

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it would grant same-sex couples previously unavailable federal benefits by September.

The Defense Department is giving legally married same-sex couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples by Sept. 3, a move that's being made in response to the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) earlier this year.

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"It is now the Department's policy to treat all married personnel equally," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a memo announcing the new benefits.

"The Department will construe the words 'spouse' and 'marriage' to include same-sex spouses and marriages, and the Department will work to make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages."

The newly available benefits for same-sex couples include housing, medical and family separation benefits, which will be made retroactive to June 26, the date of the Supreme Court decision.

The Pentagon will also grant leave for service members who are stationed in a location where same-sex marriage is illegal. Service members stationed in the contiguous United States will receive up to seven days leave, and those in Hawaii, Alaska and overseas can get up to 10 days, acting Undersecretary for Personnel Jessica Wright said in a memo.

"We recognize that same-sex couples not stationed in a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage would have to travel to another jurisdiction to marry," Hagel said. "Accordingly, the Department will implement policies to allow military personnel in such a relationship non-chargeable, for the purpose of traveling to a jurisdiction where such a marriage may occur."

Following the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" in 2011 allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly, gay rights advocates pressed the Pentagon to grant the same benefits to same-sex couples as heterosexual ones. 

In February, the Pentagon extended some benefits to same-sex couples, but said there were more than 40 federal benefits that had to remain off-limits due to DOMA restrictions.

— This story was first posted at 10:28 a.m. and has been updated.