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US military extends benefits to same-sex partners of service members

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta [official profile] on Monday signed a memorandum [text, press release] extending government benefits to same-sex partners of military personnel that were previously available only to spouses. Some of the benefits now extended to same-sex partners include access to commissaries, family counseling, child care, disability and death compensation, payments to missing persons and legal assistance. Benefits such as housing and burials were not included because they "present complex legal and policy changes," but they will continue to be considered for the future. The benefits listed in the memorandum will be accessible to same-sex spouses and to partners who have signed a Declaration of Domestic Partnership, an accommodation for couples residing in states that do not allow same-sex marriage. This change is the most recent response to the 2011 repeal [JURIST report] of Don't Ask, Don't Tell [JURIST news archive], which prohibited openly gay individuals from serving in the armed forces. Panetta plans for these benefits to become available by the end of August, though he has given military services until October 1 to put these changes into effect.

Same-sex marriage [JURIST feature] and correlated rights remain a contentious issue both within the US and around the world. Earlier this month, France's National Assembly approved [JURIST report] an article that would redefine marriage as between two people, rather than one man and one woman. Also this month, JURIST guest columnist California Senator Ted Lieu [official website] discussed in detail [JURIST comment] a California law passed last year that bans reparative therapy, or "sexual orientation change efforts." In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged the Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian] to reject a proposed law [JURIST report] that would fine individuals or organizations, including government officials, who promote homosexuality to minors. The bill had been approved by the lower house [JURIST report] days earlier. Also in January, the Virginia Senate [official website] approved legislation [JURIST report] that would prohibit the state government from discriminating against its employees based on sexual orientation.

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