Last week, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) introduced the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act to put legally married same-sex partners of military members on equal footing with heterosexual spouses.
The legislation has 12 cosponsors, including U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.). It was sent to the House Committee on Armed Services, of which Smith is the ranking Democrat. Brady is also a member.
The measure would introduce a definition of the word “spouse” that does not reference gender in a number of locations within the U.S. Code that apply to the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs.
The changes would entitle legally married same-sex spouses to the same military and veteran benefits as heterosexual spouses, such as survivor benefits and an increased housing allowance. The legislation would effectively circumvent the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents federal agencies from recognizing same-sex marriages.
At a recent Pentagon LGBT Pride event, DOD general counsel Jeh Johnson noted that the repeal of the military’s ban on openly LGBT servicemembers has exposed “certain inequalities between similarly situated couples in the military community. This troubles many of our leaders.”
“Our nation’s senior military leaders and commanders on the ground are increasingly uncomfortable with administering two classes of recognition, support and benefits for our nation’s servicemembers — one for straight servicemembers and a different one for their gay and lesbian peers,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “There cannot be two classes of servicemembers, and this legislation addresses that effectively.”
Brady, who backed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said MSET is a natural extension of that legislation.
“It’s time to end discrimination in all its forms,” Brady told PGN this week. “I support President Obama’s decision to end sexual-preference discrimination in the armed forces. Now, we must ensure that all of our military families get the fair and equitable treatment they deserve.”
Smith noted in a statement that, while the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” marked a “tremendous step forward, there is more that can be done to ensure that the rights of all of our servicemembers and their spouses, regardless of whether they are of the same sex or opposite sex as the servicemember, are protected.”
“What this bill does is simple,” Smith continued. “If veterans or servicemembers have a spouse of the same sex, then their spouse will be afforded the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. Spouses of servicemembers should not be prevented from receiving the benefits they have earned simply because they are the same sex as their partner. This discriminatory practice must come to an end.”