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SLDN Calls for Action on Extending Benefits to Gay and Lesbian Service Members

For immediate release:
Monday, January 30, 2012

Contact: Zeke Stokes
at (202) 621-5406 or zeke@sldn.org

(Washington, D.C.) Army Veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis today called upon Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to take immediate action on equal recognition, benefits and family support for gay and lesbian service members as we approach the one-year anniversary of the release of Department of Defense policy guidance on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) and the commitment from senior Pentagon leaders to study this issue and create a path to equality for all service members. In a letter to Panetta, Sarvis enumerated specific benefits that may be conferred under existing law.

"The year that has passed since the Department of Defense said it would continue to study this issue should have been more than enough time for it to come to agree with the Comprehensive Review Working Group's view that fairness and equality should be the order of the day when it comes to allowing service members to designate a person of their choosing for existing military benefits wherever there is not a restriction imposed by the Defense of Marriage Act. To date, they have not done that, and for service members affected by this, every day they delay matters to them and their families," said Sarvis.

In August 2011, SLDN sent a letter to Panetta outlining specific benefits that may be conferred upon gay and lesbian service members without conflict with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In that letter, Sarvis asked Panetta to do all in his authority to address the lingering inequities in the areas of family support, pay and benefits that will exist for gay and lesbian service members following the repeal of DADT.

"Given this background, we were surprised to read the details of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program released last week. While we applaud your effort to expand this program to cover many more people in the military family, we are troubled that it continues this same sort of discrimination," Sarvis wrote in today's letter.

The program, as announced last week, provides that if a service member is the victim of a sexual assault, counseling services should be made available to members of his or her family. It excludes same-gender spouses from those eligible for the counseling.

“The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ while an historic victory for equality, has created two classes of service members in the U.S. military – those who receive all available benefits and support and those who don’t. Secretary Panetta has the clear authority, within the confines of the law, to make same-gender married couples and their families eligible to take part in some of the programs that are available to all other service members, even while the Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books,” said Sarvis. These include making married gay and lesbian couples eligible for joint duty assignments, family center programs, and military family housing. A complete list may be found in the August letter

SLDN has also filed landmark litigation challenging DOMA and three titles in U.S. Code that prevent married gay and lesbian military families and veterans from receiving the full range of recognition, support, and benefits currently available to their straight, married peers.

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ABOUT SLDN: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. Since 1993, our in-house legal team has responded to more than 11,000 requests for assistance. 

SLDN FREE HOTLINE: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members with questions are urged to contact the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: Call 1-800-538-7418 or 202-328-3244 x100.

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