Too late: Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan
(far right) and her family.

The US military has been praised for extending a number of partner benefits to gay and lesbian service members and their families, but activists say more is needed.

Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta announced on Monday that same-sex partners of members of the military will be provided with military identity cards, hospital visitation rights, access to youth and education programmes and financial compensation in the event of their partner’s death.

“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,” said Panetta in a statement.

The package, however, does not include some benefits such as on-base housing, burial rights at national cemeteries and some overseas travel benefits for spouses.

This, said the Pentagon, is due to legal restrictions imposed by the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA).

As DOMA bars the federal government from recognising same-sex unions (even those legal in individual states), benefits specifically limited to married heterosexual couples cannot be granted to same-sex couples.

Panetta said that should DOMA, which is being contested in the Supreme Court, be repealed, the Pentagon will move to grant same-sex couples all the benefits given to married heterosexual couples.

“Secretary Panetta’s decision today answers the call President Obama issued in his inaugural address to complete our nation’s journey toward equality, acknowledging the equal service and equal sacrifice of our gay and lesbian service members and their families,” commented  Allyson Robinson, Executive Director of LGBT military rights groups OutServe-SLDN.

“We thank him for getting us a few steps closer to full equality – steps that will substantively improve the quality of life of gay and lesbian military families.”

Robinson said that while the move was encouraging, the impact of the outstanding benefits on gay couples could be seen in the case of US Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan.

She passed away on Sunday from breast cancer after a two year battle against the disease. Her wife, Karen, is not entitled to survivor’s benefits that would help her care for their surviving five-year-old daughter Casey Elena.

Morgan came out publicly on television on September 20, 2011, the day of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, and became a recognised advocate against DOMA.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin called on the Supreme Court, which is considering the constitutionality of DOMA, to “take note of the real harm this law inflicts every day”.

In addition to Morgan’s family, he also cited the example of Staff Sergeant Tracy Johnson, whose wife was killed in action late last year.

“In both cases, DOMA barred specific benefits that could soften the tragic blow of the loss of a loved one. The Court should strike down this hateful law once and for all so that this country can finally guarantee full equality for all who serve.”

The Supreme Court is set to consider DOMA next month, and is expected to issue a ruling later this year.

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