Washington • Same-sex military couples will qualify for full benefits, including government-provided health care and housing allowances, as long as they are legally married, under new rules announced by the Pentagon.
The requirement for same-sex couples to be married is a shift for the Pentagon, which in February announced that full benefits would be provided to members of the military and same-sex spouses if they attested they were in a "committed relationship."
But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that finding a way for unmarried, long-term couples to qualify for benefits "is no longer necessary," since a Supreme Court ruling in June striking down a federal law that barred married same-sex couples from obtaining federal benefits.
In addition to health care and housing benefits, the new policy will allow same-sex couples to qualify for extra compensation when a spouse in the military is deployed and unable to live at home. It will also enable spouses of same-sex couples access to base facilities, including post exchanges.
Hagel said in a memo that the requirement that same-sex couples be married was backed unanimously by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In theory, it will make it harder for military couples stationed in one of the 37 states where same-sex marriage is illegal to qualify for benefits.
But service members who are stationed in those states will be offered special leave so they can travel to one of the 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, that grant same-sex marriage licenses, the memo said.
The benefit payments are retroactive to June 26, 2013, the date of the Supreme Court's ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.
"The extension of equal benefits for all legally married spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, is a huge step forward for our families who for far too long have been excluded and cut off from support," said Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partner Association, a group representing same-sex military couples.