White House dodges questions on benefits for same-sex military families

Posted by Justin Snow
January 25, 2013 4:31 PM |

Jay Carney.jpg

The White House today said President Barack Obama is aware that same-sex military families are still denied a number of benefits in the wake of the repeal of the ban on out servicemembers, but would not say if Obama would call on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to act.

White House press secretary Jay Carney dodged a number of questions from Metro Weekly and the Washington Blade at Friday's press briefing, simply reiterating that the president is focused on the issues that continue to face gay servicemembers more than a year after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Asked if Obama was aware that same-sex military couples are still denied benefits, Carney said yes, but would not say if Obama would direct the Pentagon to take action.

CARNEY: I can tell you broadly — I don't have specifics for you — the president is absolutely focused on and aware of the need to further implement DADT and to ensure that proper benefits are provided. For more details I would point you to the Defense Department, but this is an issue the president is aware of and has his attention. 

BLADE: The Pentagon has been saying since September 2011 they have been reviewing this issue, but no action has been taken. Isn't there reason to conclude that they need a little prodding?

CARNEY: Again, this issue has the president's attention.

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METRO WEEKLY: Jay, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed more than a year ago but many of these benefits that are still denied to same-sex military couples, they could be extended with Secretary Panetta's signature. Is the president satisfied with the pace at which the Pentagon is moving?

CARNEY: I can only give you the answer I gave before, which is this is an issue that has the president's attention and I just don’t have anymore for you on that.

MW: Yesterday, in a statement following the lifting of the ban on women in combat positions, he said, "I am absolutely confident that — as with the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' — the professionalism of our armed forces will ensure a smooth transition and keep our military the very best in the world."

This doesn't seem smooth when you have the Marines banning discrimination by spouses groups and the Army permitting it. You have some branches of the military permitting discrimination and others not. How is that a smooth transition?

CARNEY: Well, I would simply say what I've said, which, the president is aware of this issue, it has his attention. But I haven't got anything more on it, any announcements to make about it. But he is aware of it. 

Advocates continue to pressure outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to immediately grant full benefits to same-sex military couples. Although some benefits are contingent on the successful repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, many, including equal access to housing benefits, military ID cards, legal services and other spousal privileges, could be granted by Panetta independently making various regulatory changes.

Yesterday, Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Defense Department spokesperson, said, "[T]he Department is conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners." After Carney's briefing, Hull-Ryde said she had nothing to add to her previous statement.

Stonewalling from the White House comes the same day NBC News reported Ashley Broadway, who was denied membership to a Fort Bragg spouses club because she is married to a lesbian Army officer, was named Fort Bragg’s 2013 "spouse of the year" after a national online vote among all military branches. 

Broadway was denied membership to a spouses club because she is ineligible to receive a military ID card under Pentagon regulations that refuse to recognize her marriage to another woman, Lt. Col. Heather Mack. The Pentagon recently backed the decision by Army leaders at Fort Bragg to not intervene in the case because a directive revised in 2008 before the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" prohibits private groups operating on military bases from discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, age, disability or national origin, but has yet to be updated to include sexual orientation.

Watch Metro Weekly's exchange with Carney here:


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