Between prepping for the sequester, dealing with the fallout of his new medal creation, and trying to help Chuck Hagel finally replace him, you would think Leon Panetta would have no time left over to create new controversies. But you'd be wrong.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has directed Pentagon personnel to immediately begin efforts to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of military members.In its own 2010 report on the impact of repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy -- which banned gays from serving openly in the military -- the Pentagon warned against the scenario which is now playing out. "If ... the Department of Defense creates a new category of unmarried dependent or family member reserved only for same-sex relationships, the Department ... itself would be creating a new inequity -- between unmarried, committed same-sex couples and unmarried, committed opposite-sex couples." Panetta defenders say "As long as it isn't an option for some loving, committed couples to actually get married, what the DOD is doing makes sense in trying to give those gay members of the military and their families the same benefits as other members of the military.
This couldn't wait for Chuck Hagel to take over? With Richard Shelby of Alabama coming out in support of Hagel yesterday this thing should be put to bed next week. Yet Panetta had to make another controversial policy decision just before leaving office. Well Chuck, Leon has stuck it to you. Here's what you're walking in to.
Unmarried gay couples do have the right to get married in 9 states. Furthermore civil unions, which would be recognized for benefits, are available in several other states including California. If a gay or straight couple doesn't want to legally commit to a lifetime union, then why should any part of the government give them special benefits as if they had? And the 2010 report is exactly right in it's prediction that you have now opened the military up to claims that committed, yet unmarried or civil unioned (unioned?) hetero couples are being discriminated against.
The problem is Leon is in such a damn rush. Gays were not permitted in the military by law till 2011. In 1993 Bill Clinton got squirly when he created don't ask don't tell. Which sounds like the agreement he and Hillary had regarding any women she found him with. But the law still banned gays in the military. So for the US to reverse a policy that has been in place for the entire existence of our country is a pretty huge deal. Let that sit a while. But no. 16 months later, with a week left on the job, you spring this ill conceived plan? Were you afraid historians would credit Chuck Hagel?
Now for my gay friends, (yes I really have gay friends and family members too) you may think 'we've waited too long as it is'. But you of all people, who know all-too-well about inequality, have to admit that this policy isn't fair to straight couples who chose to not marry. Straights choose to not marry for lot's of reasons. Because they are offended by religion. Because they say when a couple gets married it ruins the relationship. Whatever their reason. It doesn't matter why they haven't married. You aren't married either. And you know that if you desperately wanted to be married, you could drive to Maryland and get married this weekend. Granted it's not as cool as Miami, but Maryland can get you married, while Miami just gives you sunburn and body issues.
The right thing for the military to do was acknowledge benefits for married couples. Regardless of sexual orientation. If they're married or civil unioned (I like the way that sounds so I'm sticking with it) they get the benefits. By allowing homosexual couples to avoid getting married, but receive benefits by signing a declaration attesting to their committed relationship you have opened up problems that weren't there before. If the person signs the card and then "breaks up" but still lives together for financial reasons... and then the soldier actually does get married to someone else, does that trump their declaration? What if a man is married to a woman but really is gay? Can he remained married to help his wife and kids and then sign a declaration to help his partner?
Of course straight people are going to want to sign that declaration, which has no side effects like a divorce would. And I wouldn't be surprised to see straight's start suing for that right. But if next week Hagel gets in and says chillax on this gay benefits thing till we work out the details, then some gay couples are going to want to sue. So welcome aboard Chuck. Still want the job?