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SLDN Praises Bill to Extend Benefits and Support to All Military Spouses

For immediate release:
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Contact: Zeke Stokes at
(202) 621-5406 or zeke@sldn.org

(Washington, DC) Army Veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis today applauded the introduction of HR 6046, the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2012 (MSET) that would change the definition of "spouse" in four areas of U.S. Code related to recognition, support, and benefits for married service members and veterans. The changes - including Titles 10, 32, and 38 that are challenged in SLDN's landmark litigation, McLaughlin v. U.S., filed in October 2011 - would ensure that spouses of the same gender are eligible for key military benefits.

"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 service members - one for straight service members and a different one for their gay and lesbian peers. There cannot be two classes of service members, and this legislation addresses that effectively," said Sarvis.

In his remarks at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson referenced the growing awareness of this disparity among leadership in the armed forces.

"The repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' exposes certain inequalities between similarly situated couples in the military community. This troubles many of our leaders," said Johnson.

In addition to the titles challenged by SLDN's court case, the bill - introduced by House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) - also adds a favorable controlling definition of "spouse" to Title 37 to provide greater uniformity of benefits for same-sex spouses. Taken together, MSET would extend dozens of important spousal benefits and support programs to same-gender spouses, including coverage under TriCare insurance, an increased housing allowance, and survivor benefits.

"Ranking Member Smith has recognized with the introduction of this legislation today that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal - while a monumental achievement for gay and lesbian service members and all Americans - does not finish the job of ensuring full equality for these brave patriots and their families. We thank him for his leadership and urge his colleagues in both parties and in both houses of Congress to join him and us in this important fight," said Sarvis.

Sarvis said he expects a companion bill to be introduced soon in the U.S. Senate and that SLDN, working with allies, will seek to gain co-sponsors for the legislation in both bodies.

"Just as SLDN did in the fight to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' we are now engaged in a two-front campaign to gain full equality for service members, veterans, and their spouses in the courts and on Capitol Hill. This bill - just like our case in the courts - is about justice for gay and lesbian military families providing the same service, taking the same risks, and making the same sacrifices for our country as their straight, married peers. The military should not be forced to turn its back on them because the federal government does not recognize their marriages," said Sarvis.

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 11,500 requests for assistance. 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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