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Same-Sex Military Couples|Demand Equal Spousal Benefits

BOSTON (CN) - Eight same-sex couples sued the Pentagon, demanding the same medical, survivorship and other benefits as traditional military spouses. Despite the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the plaintiffs say they and their spouses are denied equal "medical and dental benefits, basic housing allowances, travel and transportation allowances, family separation benefits, military ID cards, visitation rights in military hospitals, survivor benefits, and the right to be buried together in military cemeteries."

Denying such equal benefits is unconstitutional and "a threat to national security," according to the federal complaint.

Lead plaintiff Major Shannon McLaughlin and her spouse, Casey McLaughlin, and seven other couples sued Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and the United States of America.

They say: "There is no enumerated power in the Constitution that allows the federal government to define marriage in such a way as to deny plaintiffs the benefits they seek, and the Tenth Amendment entrusts the regulation of marriage to the states. As applied to military benefits in this context, these statutes deny the plaintiffs equal protection, place an unconstitutional condition upon the fundamental constitutional right to marry in accordance with state law, and are legislative penalties imposed on persons in same-sex marriages that constitute impermissible bills of attainder."

All eight couples say their branched of the military have informed them that "same-sex legal spouses are excluded from the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System ('DEERS') and that they are therefore not entitled to the benefits that plaintiff[s] sought."

The plaintiffs say military's and Attorney General's enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the subsequent denial of spousal benefits is an untenable position, as "the President and the Attorney General have acknowledged that DOMA Section 3 is unconstitutional."

They add: "The military has emphasized repeatedly that providing these benefits is necessary to compete with the private sector to maintain quality enlistment and retention, and that the assurance that a service member's family will be provided for in the event the service member dies serving their country is important for maintaining morale and faithful service.

"Moreover, the military recognizes the link between the payment of benefits and national security, explaining that service members who are distracted by thoughts that their loved ones are not being card for may render the service members less effective combatants: 'Success in modern warfare demands the full utilization of every ounce of both the physical and mental strength and stamina of its participants. No soldier can be and remain at his best with the constant realization that his family and loved ones are in dire need of financial assistance.'"

Discriminatory laws "were crafted at a time when gays and lesbians were precluded from openly serving in the military, and when same-sex marriages were not legal in the United States," the complaint states. "The military is a reflection of our society as a whole. Now that same-sex marriages are legal, and gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military, service members - such as the plaintiffs - with same-sex spouses do serve in the ranks. To maintain the uniformity of benefits ... the definition of 'spouse' must include these same-sex spouses as well."

The plaintiffs say the military's enforcement of DOMA, and of sections of Titles 10, 32 and 38 "cannot be constitutionally applied to deny benefits to same-sex married couples." They seek an injunction and attorneys' fees.

They are represented by Ian McClatchey with Chadbourne & Parke of New York, N.Y., and John Goodman with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, of Washington, D.C.

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