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Same-sex marriage benefits granted to military personnel

The 36,000 or so active duty military men and women who make Illinois their home received news last week about an important policy change. The Pentagon announced on Aug. 14 that same-sex spouses of military personnel will be eligible for federal benefits no later than Sept. 3. Civilian defense employees will also be eligible.

The policy is a shift from what military brass had planned before the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor. The original plan was to extend limited benefits -- including access to commissaries and some health coverage -- to same-sex spouses and domestic partners who signed a "relationship declaration."

Sept. 3 is just one important date in the announcement. Same-sex couples that were legally married before June 26, the date of the Windsor decision, are also eligible for full benefits from that date. Couples married on or after June 26 are eligible on the date of their legal marriage. The benefits they will be entitled to are big-ticket items like military health insurance and housing allowances.

Same-sex military couples in Illinois can take heart in one other way. The Pentagon has authorized leave for couples stationed in states that, like Illinois, do not allow same-sex marriage. The leave will allow them to travel to a different state to tie the knot.

The leave allowance rankled opponents of same-sex marriage on Capitol Hill. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee pointed out that military leave is determined by statute; exceptions can be made for adoption, the birth of a child or emergencies, but marriage, he said, is not a valid special circumstance, regardless of the gender of the spouses.

Source: Washington Post, "Pentagon extends benefits to same-sex military spouses," Josh Hicks, Aug. 14, 2013

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