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Idea of the Day: Gay Service Members Deserve Equal Military Benefits

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On September 20, 2011, the ban on openly gay military service—also known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or DADT—came to an end as the law’s repeal finally went into effect. From that point on, gay men and women have been able to serve their country openly, honestly, and, for the first time, without punishment.

The transition to open service has proceeded smoothly over the past 12 months despite doomsday predictions by supporters of the gay ban. In the years leading up to repeal, proponents of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeatedly claimed that open service would undermine the unit cohesion and readiness of the U.S. military. But no reputable study ever showed that allowing service by openly gay personnel compromises military effectiveness.

Moreover, they continued to make these claims even after the Pentagon released a comprehensive pre-repeal survey of service members revealing that the vast majority of troops were already serving with someone they knew to be gay or lesbian, and that doing so in no way threatened unit cohesion or military readiness. They also made these assertions despite the fact that some of our closest foreign allies repealed their gay bans without any impact to unit cohesion or military readiness.

One year later it is clear that gay and lesbian troops were never a threat to military readiness, and this month the first academic study of the issue found that U.S. national security has been enhanced by the reality of open service, not diminished by it. Even in a post-DADT world, however, outdated laws and policies still prevent gay service members and their families from accessing the benefits afforded to their straight counterparts.

Military personnel have access to important benefits that offer employment security and financial support to them and their families. These benefits include housing allowances, travel and relocation assistance, and military health insurance. But even under open service, gay service members and their families do not have equal access to military benefits.

The primary reason for this inequitable access is the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, a federal law that defines marriage solely as the union between one man and one woman. Under this exclusive definition, same-sex couples–even those who are legally married–cannot access a range of federal benefits normally afforded to married couples, including government programs and tax breaks.

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This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

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