With his tenure as US Defense Secretary nearly over, Leon Panetta on Monday (11 February) announced that gay and lesbian military personnel and their families will begin receiving an extended array of benefits by this fall.
Those benefits include such things as identification cards, joint duty assignments, exemption from hostile fire areas, emergency leave, child care, legal assistance, commissary privileges, and morale, welfare, and recreation programs.
'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,' Panetta said in a lengthy statement.
'Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation,' he also stated. 'Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation.'
But Panetta acknowledged that because the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents same-sex marriage from being recognized on a federal level, is still in effect, there are some benefits gays and lesbians and their families still will not get.
Those include health care and housing allowances.
But that could change of the US Supreme Court, which is reviewing DOMA this spring, declare the law unconstitutional.
Said an optimistic Panetta: 'I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation. Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families.'