The benefits now granted to same-sex couples as a result of the Supreme Court decision striking down key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act will put an immediate strain on the defense budget, warns the Center for Military Readiness.
After the ruling Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that all benefits given to military spouses would now be extended to same-sex couples.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said the “ruling will have immediate consequences in America’s armed forces, which employ personnel from all states and grant extensive marriage benefits under federal law.”
Donnelly said the U.S. military budget will be under pressure because of the Supreme Court’s actions, but it is hard to calculate how much.
“No one has estimated what the impact will be,” said Donnelly, “especially during a time when sequestration cuts, large and small, are affecting military families worldwide.”
DOMA was passed in 1996 by a bipartisan majority in Congress and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton. It specified that where federal law was concerned, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
The Supreme Court this week ruled the definition an unconstitutional violation of “equal rights.”
The sequester cuts have already disproportionately affected the defense budget. Fifty percent of the cuts prescribed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 came from defense even though it is less than one-fifth of the federal budget.
“Now that marriage law has been redefined for federal purposes,” Donnelly warns, “the potential cost of extending military family benefits on an ‘equal’ and ‘consistent’ policy basis is unknown.”
Donnelly points out that the military did not have to be affected by the ruling.
“If short-sighted, naive members of Congress had not rushed to repeal the 1993 law regarding gays in the military (Section 654, Title 10), [the DOMA] ruling would not have affected the armed forces,” she said.
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 was passed on a near party-line vote during the lame-duck session of Congress after the sweeping Republican victories in the 2010 midterm election.
According to Donnelly, the combination of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and the Defense of Marriage Act ruling this week extend the full range of housing, education, medical and travel benefits to same-sex couples. All of it will be paid for out of a military budget already decimated by the sequester.
Active-duty pay, benefits and family programs have largely been spared by the sequester cuts, but furloughs of civilian Department of Defense employees are directly affecting military families. Services on military bases staffed by civilian workers, including schools and medical facilities, are providing fewer services as the furloughs continue.
In addition, many spouses of active-duty military members are civilian DOD workers. To help with service member retention, military spouses are given priority in hiring for civilian DOD positions. As military benefits begin to go to same-sex spouses, more furloughs can be expected. That translates to less pay for military families and fewer services on bases.
The Center for Military Readiness cites the Comprehensive Review Working Group in predicting another wave of beneficiaries who will be coming in on the heels of the same-sex spouses.
The CRWG was created by the Department of Defense to conduct a review of the issues associated with the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. The CRWG concluded that the extension of military benefits to committed same-sex couples would create “a new inequity – between unmarried, committed same-sex couples and unmarried, committed opposite-sex couples.”
The next groups the military expects to grant benefits are opposite-sex unmarried couples and committed same-sex couples.
Donnelly laments the lack of planning and consideration given to the extension of benefits to same-sex spouses.
“There were no hearings to seriously examine the full ramifications of repeal, including new entitlements that are now about to drain shrinking defense family budgets,” she said.
Col. Ron Ray, former deputy assistant Secretary of Defense (Reserve Affairs), points out that “the move to ‘homosexualize’ the military has been a top priority of the gay rights political agenda dating back to 1972.”
And he said it may get even more costly.
“Sexualizing the military has done little to improve the military institution but has rather undermined once high military standards and had an adverse effect on combat effectiveness,” he said. “Sexualization of the military has proven to distract from the national security mission, combat readiness and may cost America more than an increasing military budget.”