The Defense Department on Monday formally adapted its definitions of “marriage” and “spouse” to include legally married same-sex couples, finalizing a plan it announced in August.
The change came after the Pentagon issued an interim rule to update its identification card policy, effective immediately. The Supreme Court found unconstitutional in June 2013 the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman unconstitutional. A few weeks later, Defense took the initial steps to extend benefits to same-sex couples.
The guidance will allow the department to provide federal benefits to the same-sex spouses of all its military members and civilian employees.
The Pentagon’s definition of spouse now reads, “A person legally married under the law of the place in which the marriage was celebrated to a current, former, or retired uniformed service member, eligible civilian employee, or other eligible individual…regardless of gender or state of residence.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had hoped to extend benefits to same-sex spouses sooner, originally setting the deadline for Sept. 3. He ran into roadblocks, however, when the National Guard of Texas and five other states announced they would refuse to issue the requisite identification cards to gay couples. The states recently ended their protests and all legally married partners of National Guardsmen are now eligible for benefits.
The rule marks the culmination of several years of progress for gay rights activists at Defense. In 2011, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed, allowing openly gay members of the military to serve. In February 2013, then-Secretary Leon Panetta extended some rights, but not health benefits, to gay couples in the military.
The guidance puts the department in line with the rest of the federal government; the Office of Personnel Management issued its instructions for the implementation of the repeal of DOMA’s Section 3 just two days after the Supreme Court’s decision.