By striking at the heart of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court has invited controversy and division nationwide, starting with the military. Congress should have known that the extension of family benefits to same-sex spouses in the armed forces, which employ people from all the states, would be especially complicated and costly.
As of now, traditional-marriage states do not have to recognize same-sex couples married elsewhere. However, within hours of the U.S. v. Windsor decision, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the military services soon will extend to same-sex couples a wide array of spousal benefits that were unavailable under the Defense of Marriage Act.
In addition to family ID cards, these will include medical services, housing, shared GI Bill tuition assistance, travel for command-sponsored overseas assignments and Arlington Cemetery burial rights. Initial expenditures will involve a relatively small number of people, but when the Windsor precedent is fully implemented and applied, additional costs just for medical TriCare, which have nearly tripled since 2001, could be substantial. The impact on military families will not stop there.
According to Stars & Stripes, the statute that governs veterans benefits defines a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a wife or husband.” The Supreme Court has just denounced anyone who supports that traditional definition, which could be scrapped. Depending on states of residence, thousands of new same-sex beneficiaries might file claims, stretching already scarce Veterans Health Administration resources. Since the secretary of defense advocates equal benefits for all as “the right thing to do,” almost anything could happen.
Defense Department bureaucrats also could suffer headaches trying to equalize inequities that former Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta created on Feb. 10. At the time, impatient lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists were demanding administrative spousal benefits not restricted by the Defense of Marriage Act. Mr. Panetta obliged, announcing that the Defense Department would extend policy-established perks, such as some travel and commissary privileges, to same-sex unmarried couples who sign a “Declaration of Domestic Partnership.”
Mr. Panetta’s action disregarded warnings of the Defense Department’s own Comprehensive Review Working Group, the panel that issued a report analyzing the consequences of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in November 2010. The working group cautioned that it would be unwise for the Defense Department to create a “new inequity” extending benefits to unmarried gay and lesbian couples, but not to unmarried opposite-sex couples.
The administration nevertheless extended new benefits to same-sex domestic partners that will be difficult to take back or equalize. After all, as President Obama often says, the only thing that matters is “who you love.” Under this mushy standard, unmarried “committed partners,” both homosexual and straight, are sure to demand “equity” in entitlements for themselves and dependents.
The Supreme Court decision in Windsor disrespected the constitutional powers of Congress, which passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses. The court also disregarded language in the 2010 law repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which stated that marriage benefits would not be extended to same-sex couples. This clause was designed to gain a few votes from naive Republicans who believed administration assurances regarding the Defense of Marriage Act, which were repeatedly used to deflect questions about same-sex marriage benefits.
Shortsighted lawmakers should not have placed their trust in White House and Pentagon officials who were openly allied with homosexual activists. Without serious thought or hearings during the 2010 lame-duck session, Congress rushed to repeal the 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” statute, ushering in a new policy that should have been called lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender law in the military.
A few weeks later, in February 2011, the Department of Justice discontinued defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court. This dereliction of duty lent support to legal challenges leading to the Supreme Court’s activist ruling in the Windsor case.
There are no estimates of long-term costs for extending spouse and dependent benefits to a new class of beneficiaries, with or without marriage, but if the drain on funds cannot be sustained, benefits intended for families will be cut for everyone. Once again, Mr. Obama has used the armed forces to deliver on political promises to his homosexual base, and traditional military families are about to pay the bill.
Lessons can be learned about “bait and switch” tactics and the law of unintended consequences. When administration officials promise the moon to secure passage of any far-reaching bill, such as with irreversible immigration reform, lawmakers should not surrender power to executive branch officials and federal judges who cannot be trusted. When it comes to political advantage paid for with taxpayer money, Mr. Obama’s generosity knows no bounds.
Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.
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