The Defense Department will be technologically ready to extend marriage benefits to same-sex military spouses no later than Sept. 3, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in a Wednesday memo.
Although DOD was quick to praise the Supreme Court’s June decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, it left some questions unanswered as to how and when it would extend marriage benefits to same-sex military spouses. Wednesday’s corresponding memos from Hagel and Jessica Wright, DOD’s acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness, laid out that how and when.
“The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve our country and their families are treated fairly and equally,” Hagel said in his memo. “Expeditious implementation of the decisions announced in this memorandum will help the department remain true to that commitment.”
First, the when. After the Supreme Court’s decision in June, DOD acknowledged it would have to make technical upgrades to its Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, which was, at the time, unable to issue identification cards to same-sex spouses. The department estimated that process would take anywhere from six to 12 weeks. Wednesday’s memos indicated all updates would be ready by Sept. 3, roughly nine weeks from the Supreme Court’s decision.
But the nine-week lag won’t mean reduced benefits for same-sex married spouses; benefits will be awarded retroactive to the June 26 Supreme Court decision, clearing up another uncertainty.
Now, the how. Because many states still do not recognize same-sex marriages, it was unclear after the Supreme Court’s decision whether the Pentagon would base a marriage’s legitimacy on if it was legal where it occurred or where the couple resides. Hagel’s memo was quick to specify — DOD “will recognize all marriages that are valid in the place of celebration.”
In acknowledgement of the military’s transient population, Wright’s memo also laid out changes to its leave policy. Same-sex couples farther than 100 miles from a state that performs same-sex marriages will be permitted time off to make the trip to the legal “place of celebration.”
“This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married,” Hagel said in his memo.