Pentagon announces extension of benefits to same-sex partners

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testifies on the attack on the US facilities in Benghazi, Libya, before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2013.
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Updated: 1:22 p.m. ET

Just weeks after lifting the ban on women in combat, the Defense Department announced yet another groundbreaking decision today, making official the extension of some military benefits to same-sex partners previously denied them.

In a statement, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the military would no longer provide some benefits to heterosexual couples while denying them to same-sex partners in the military.

"Seventeen months ago, the United States military ended the policy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Panetta said today in a statement announcing the decision. "At the time of repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy. It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country."

Panetta noted that while the department "already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated," the Pentagon will now "extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members."

Panetta said he expected the new benefits to be made available "As expeditiously as possible," and reiterated his confidence in the military to implement the changes in the coming months.

Among the additional benefits that same-sex domestic partners will receive include emergency leave, commissary privileges, dependent ID cards, exchange privileges, access to morale, welfare and recreation programs, access to youth and family center programs, joint duty assignments, and more.

In a statement following the announcement, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, offered tempered praise for the action, but argued that discrimination for gay and lesbian members of the military will persist while the Defense of Marriage Act stands.

"Today, the Pentagon took a historic step forward toward righting the wrong of inequality in our armed forces, but there is still more work to be done," Griffin said. "Gay and lesbian service members and their families make sacrifices every day, and this country owes them every measure of support we can provide. Since the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the Obama administration has shown true leadership on this issue. But even today, the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act makes inequality for gay and lesbian military families a legal requirement."