Gay service members who want to get married would receive up to 10 days of leave to travel to states where same-sex marriage is legal, according to a draft Department of Defense memo obtained by the Associated Press this week.
The memo, written by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, also proposes that those same-sex couples receive the full military benefits given to heterosexual married couples. Hagel said his proposal was drawn with the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
If implemented, the proposal would replace an earlier Defense plan in which a non-military same-sex partner would receive limited benefits. The recent Supreme Court decision extending federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples eliminates the need for such a plan, Hagel says in the draft.
According to a U.S. official, the memo is under legal review by the Justice Department, and the Pentagon will not be able to take any action until that review is finished. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the memo publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman, told The AP that the Pentagon "is working alongside the Department of Justice to implement the court's decision as quickly as possible."
In February, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that by Oct. 1 the Pentagon would extend limited benefits to same-sex partners and service members who signed a declaration that they were in a committed relationship. Housing benefits were not included, but the plan called for same-sex partners to get special identification cards granting them access to commissaries and other services.
At the time, officials said the issue would be revisited if the Supreme Court ruled on the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
On June 26, the high court cleared the path for legally married gay couples to be recognized under federal law and also ruled same-sex marriages in California can resume. It did not, however, issue any sweeping declarations that would allow same-sex couples to marry anywhere in the country. When the ruling was announced, Hagel said the Pentagon would reassess the department's decisions on benefits for same-sex couples and also begin the process of extending benefits to same-sex spouses of military members.
In the memo, Hagel says the department intends to treat all married military personnel the same and "make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation."
Hagel says the provision allowing service members to travel to states where the unions are legal is a way to help overcome the remaining hurdles. Currently, 13 states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.
Al Jazeera and wire services