Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Monday that the same sex partners of soldiers will immediately begin receiving some of the benefits opposite sex couples enjoy, including the issuance of military identification cards.

"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 said in prepared text. "The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated. Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members."

The benefits formally extended Monday, nearly a year and a half after the military's gay ban was lifted, do not include the two big ones: health care and burial in a military graveyard -- a caveat, Panetta wrote in an internal memo (PDF), that stems from "complex legal and policy challenges" raised by the "Defense of Marriage Act."

Nevertheless, LGBT soldier group Out Serve said the changes mean same sex domestic partners get hospital visitation rights, emergency leave, child care assistance, military identification cards, legal help, joint-assignments and survivor's benefits like disability and death compensation, among other perks of military life.

"Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation," he added. "Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation."

Evan Wolfson, president of marriage equality group Freedom to Marry, welcomed the announcement. "Today's announcement by the Pentagon that it will provide same-sex spouses of active service members some of the limited protections it can, within the discriminatory constraints imposed by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, is a positive step that will help families and align with the military’s goals of treating service members fairly, while at the same time underscoring just how great a burden DOMA imposes on families and employers," he said in an advisory.


Photo: Flickr user campdarby, creative commons licensed.