Gay Military Spouses To Benefit From Supreme Court Ruling

Gay spouses of service members have long been denied the substantial benefits available to heterosexual couples. Now, Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act means gay married couples can look forward to more equal treatment from the Pentagon.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning. The Supreme Court ruling yesterday on the Defense of Marriage Act will change the lives of many people, including some in the U.S. military. Gay spouses of service members have long been denied the substantial benefits available to heterosexual couples. Yesterday's ruling that struck down DOMA means gay married couples can look forward to more equal treatment from the Pentagon, as NPR's Larry Abramson reports.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Another momentous change for the military: 2011 marked the end of "don't ask, don't tell," allowing gays to serve openly. Earlier this year, the Pentagon dropped the rule that kept women out of combat. And now, thanks to the end of the Defense of Marriage Act, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says gay military spouses will be able to get the same benefits as straight spouses.

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SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: We, the Department of Defense, will move very swiftly, expeditiously on implementing the law, the decision of the Supreme Court.

ABRAMSON: Alison Robinson with the group Outserve-SLDN had been fighting to achieve this result. She says now a long list of benefits can flow to gay couples who are legally married.

ALISON ROBINSON: Things like access to medical care, survivor benefits, and simply the right to be the first person who's notified if your service member is wounded or killed in action.

ABRAMSON: The Pentagon has no guess on how much this will cost. It probably won't be a big portion of the defense budget. But these benefits can really boost the size of a service member's pay package. And the symbolism, as a sign of equality, is huge. Joan Derra is a retired Navy captain who could not serve openly. She's glad that couples in the future won't have to live like she and her partner did.

CAPTAIN JOAN DERRA: Lynn and I have been married for 23 years. Somebody that's been married, a co-ed couple, for an hour and a half, the spouse gets full medical benefits, gets burial at Arlington, gets base access, gets a sticker on the car.

ABRAMSON: All benefits she and her partner did not get. One group is not too happy about the impact of the Supreme Court decision. Ron Crews is with the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, which provides chaplains to the military. He says, up till now, chaplains felt they could say no to offering certain services.

RON CREWS: Both to providing counseling to same-sex couples and to doing same-sex marriages and taking same sex-couples on marriage retreats that were sponsored and paid for by the military.

ABRAMSON: Now, he says, chaplains may fear the consequences of denying services. While the Pentagon has embraced the Supreme Court decision, there are still many legal wrinkles to work out. The laws providing veterans benefits may have to be rewritten, before that money can go to same-sex couples. And Justice Department lawyers have to work out how they will deal with same-sex couples now living in states that do not recognize gay marriage. Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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