On Equality Front, From “Why?” to “Why Not?”

It’s a token of how rapidly the political dam against LGBT equality has broken that the Pentagon’s announcement that it is extending family benefits to gay men and women serving in the military made relatively few waves. HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel has the story:

Gay rights groups have been pressing the Pentagon to extend equal benefits to gay service members and their families since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The newly granted benefits include commissary privileges; ID cards to get on base; access to family support initiatives, legal assistance and sexual assault counseling; ability to take emergency leave for family emergencies and joint duty assignments. The move was one of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s last moves as a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, and it will likely be one of his most lasting legacies.

“At the time of repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy,” Panetta said on Monday. “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. 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.”

Interestingly enough, the announcement spurred some discussion of items not included in the new policy:

The new benefits do not include certain items that could have been granted, such as burial rights at national cemeteries, on-base housing and certain travel expenses for spouses. In a memo explaining the changes, Panetta said extending these items to gay service members presents “complex legal and policy challenges to due their nexus to statutorily-prohibited benefits and due to ongoing reviews about how best to provide scarce resources.”

But the key thing to note here is that discussion of same-sex-partner benefits has now moved from a “why?” to a “why not?” dynamic, in which exceptions to equal treatment are becoming more notable than equal treatment itself. That’s a big deal beyond the ranks of the military.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.