Defense Secretary Leon Panetta formally extended a set of military benefits to same-sex partners of service members Monday.
"Discrimination based on sexual orientation no longer has a place in the military," Panetta wrote in a memo to senior military leaders. "Today, our military leaders are ensuring that all America's sons and daughters who volunteer to serve our nation in uniform are treated with equal dignity and respect, regardless of their sexual orientation."
The list of newly available benefits includes dependent identification cards, commissary and exchange privileges, emergency leave, joint duty assignments, space-available travel on military aircraft and child care.
The move came, Panetta said, after a "careful and deliberative review" of benefits currently provided to service members.
The military services will try to implement the new benefits by Aug. 31, but must do so by Oct. 31. The changes will require policy revisions, training and in some cases technical upgrades.
For the time being at least, certain benefits can only be extended to spouses under federal law, and therefore are not available to same-sex domestic partners of military personnel, Panetta wote in his memo. These include health care and housing allowances.
"In the event the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense," Panetta wrote, "it will be the policy of the department to construe the words 'spouse' and 'marriage' without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits."