If gay service members are allowed to serve openly, the military will face another tough question: Should gay partners be entitled to military benefits?
Momentum appears to be building for ending the ban on gays in the military. New rules ordered Thursday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates make it harder to discharge men and women under the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” His decision is intended as a stopgap measure as Congress weighs whether to go along with President Barack Obama’s request to repeal the law.
Since the draft ended in 1973, spousal benefits have increasingly been used as an incentive to recruit and retain an effective force. Today, more than half of all troops sport a wedding ring.
Benefits for married service members include college tuition for a spouse and the right of a spouse to be at a wounded service member’s bedside. Spouses also have access to military health care and commissaries worldwide, and married service members receive better housing and even extra pay when they go to war.
The ticket to qualifying for those benefits is a marriage certificate. Heterosexual couples have a choice whether to marry, but same-sex marriages are legal in only five states and Washington, D.C. Whether same-sex partnerships would be recognized by the military and what benefits might be afforded gay couples would become issues if the ban were lifted.
“It will be a whole complex row of dominoes that will fall as a result of this,” said Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the conservative Family Research Council.