Partners of Gay DoD Civilians get Benefits

Post date: Mar 11, 2011 9:01:28 PM

March 10, 2011

The Defense Department has updated its travel regulations for civilian employees to include gay domestic partners. Now the partner of an employee on a permanent change of station outside the United States qualifies as a dependent for overseas and return travel.

The new language is consistent with federal travel regulations previously introduced into the Federal Register, which revised the definition of “immediate family” to include “domestic partner,” as well as children of the partnership, dependent parents, and dependent brothers and sisters of the partner, according to a Feb. 4 Pentagon memo. The change went into effect on March 3.

The regulation applies only to civilian employees, though the head of a group opposed to gays serving openly in the military believes the change is another move by the White House and Pentagon to extend all spousal-type benefits to partners of gay troops in the future.

“If the Defense Department is going to extend benefits to civilian partners [of civilian employees] it’s not a very big step to say the same rules should apply to military personnel,” said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness. “Especially if final repeal goes through and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] law takes hold in the military.”

Federal agencies began revising benefits to include gay employees in 2009 after the White House told the State Department and the Office of Personnel Management to work with the Justice Department to extend benefits available to spouses to the partners of same-sex employees. Heads of other government agencies were told to conduct policy reviews with the same intent.

The federal government defines a gay domestic partnership as a “committed” relationship between two adults of the same sex who are each other’s sole domestic partner and intend to remain so indefinitely. They are also expected to maintain a common residence, share responsibility for each other’s financial obligations, and not be married or joined in a civil union to anyone else.

Donnelly said she sees problems with the regulations, particularly the possibility of people claiming committed partnerships that really are not.

“There is no requirement for having lived together prior to the request,” she said. “Does this mean that a new acquaintance that the servicemember meets at a bar and ‘intends to remain with indefinitely’ will get travel benefits?”

None of the federal regulation changes to date apply to the uniformed military. In testimony, Pentagon leadership has said the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a legal bond between one man and one woman, prohibits benefits that by law may be extended to the spouse of a servicemember going to a gay partner.

Donnelly believes the officials are using DOMA as a smokescreen and that anti-discrimination laws will eventually be used to get around it and extend the full range of spousal benefits to partners of gay servicemembers. As an example she mentioned the rule that enables a gay servicemember with a child to get base housing and name a domestic partner as the primary caretaker, which effectively opens up base housing to gay couples. She views opening travel to same-sex partners of civilian employees as a similar de facto erosion of DOMA.

“Every time they say the Defense of Marriage Act is a barrier to extending benefits to same-sex couples it is belied by moves like this,” she said.