November 26, 2013
Three years ago, homosexuals could not openly serve in the military. Thanks to the December 2010 passage of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act, this is no longer the case as of September 20, 2011.
For the first half of 2013, the federal government was prohibited by statute from recognizing marriages between two individuals of the same sex, regardless of whether such marriages were duly solemnized and/or legally recognized by the state in which the couple resided.
After the Supreme Court’s landmark U.S. v. Windsor ruling announced at the end of June, this, once again, is no longer true. As was widely reported, Windsor struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had previously limited the federal definition of “marriage” to opposite-sex couples.
Within days of the Windsor ruling, President Obama announced that, with the demise of DOMA’s Section 3, same-sex couples could begin applying for federal-employee benefits.
The military wasn’t far behind: in September, the Department of Defense announced that same-sex spouses of service members were eligible to receive the same military spousal benefits as opposite-sex spouses.
And just this month, an Army directive dated November 7 now allows soldiers seeking same-sex marriages to administrative leave in order to travel to a location where such marriages are legal.
There are some specific requirements for service members to take advantage of this benefit: the soldier must not be stationed in a state or jurisdiction same-sex marriage is legal, nor be stationed within 100 miles of such a state or jurisdiction. If they qualify, soldiers are entitled to as much as two days of administrative leave for travel, if they live in the continental U.S., or as much as five days if they live outside the continental U.S.
Service members don’t receive administrative leave only for travel, however: they also entitled to administrative leave for adherence to the “waiting period” as may be required by the state in which the marriage is to occur (such required waiting periods, measured from when the couple files the notice with the clerk and when the wedding can be held, usually range from three to four days).
The total allowable amount of administrative leave cannot exceed seven days, however.
This latest announcement is significant because it goes beyond simply making the same benefits available to same-sex couples that are available to opposite-sex couples; this new policy actually provides benefits above and beyond what is currently available to opposite-sex couples.
Clearly, though, since the jurisdictions in which same-sex marriage is legal is quite limited compared to those that recognize opposite-sex marriage, such allowances of administrative leave for travel are not nearly as necessary for opposite-sex couples seeking to get married. As such, it is very likely that, as more jurisdictions recognize same-sex marriage, the administrative leave allowed under this policy will be approved less and less.
This new rule is significant for another reason: it is strongly indicative of a trend among federal government policy-makers – one of being proactive in bringing same-sex couples onto equal footing as their opposite-sex peers.
Instead of being dragged into certain directions by Congress or the courts, federal policy-makers at all levels seem to be embracing same-sex marriage as an inevitable part of this country’s future, and actively working to implement this change.
Since the federal government has a habit of leading the country – specifically, state and local jurisdictions – by example, it seems that it will only be a matter of time until the federal government’s policy is the norm across the country.
And as such, resisting these changes will likely only create additional difficulties in the future – and should thus be avoided.