Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Tacoma introduced a bill Wednesday that would grant the spouses of gay men and lesbians serving in the military the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts.
Smith, the House Armed Services Committee ranking member, said that while the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a good start, there is more that can be done to ensure the rights of service members and their spouses.
Smith’s bill, the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2012, would redefine the term “spouse” in federal laws governing military benefits as any individual who has entered into a valid marriage.
The current definition of spouse, which comes directly from the Defense of Marriage Act, refers to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife. As a result, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs can only provide limited benefits to spouses of gay or lesbian service members.
“Spouses of service members should not be prevented from receiving the benefits they have earned simply because they are the same sex as their partner,” Smith said. “All we’re doing is saying, ‘if you’re a spouse, you’re a spouse.’”
According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, benefits currently being denied to same-sex military spouses include surviving spouse benefits, medical and dental insurance, housing benefits, treatment in military medical facilities, and free legal services, among others.
Smith said the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” combined with the increasing number of states legalizing same-sex marriage made now the right time to submit this bill.