The Pentagon will soon offer additional military benefits to same-sex couples, marking the first major expansion since the September 2011 repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," a defense official said.
Those benefits likely will include an array of perks and privileges currently extended to heterosexual spouses, such as access to military bases, commissaries and family services, according to a defense official familiar with the plans. Joint-duty assignments for same-sex, dual-military couples also may be on the list.
But the Pentagon will stop short of offering family housing, health benefits and with-dependents housing allowance rates to same-sex couples. Those benefits are defined by federal law, and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act still prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Military couples married under state laws that permit same-sex marriages will be eligible for the additional benefits.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce the changes possibly later this week, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the changes have not been formally announced.
The move comes after some gays in uniform said the military's rules made routine family activities — such as picking up children from an on-base school or dropping by the commissary to shop — difficult or impossible.
For now, the Pentagon's hands are tied on the question of extending the housing and health benefits to same-sex spouses because of the 1996 DOMA law. But that could change this year, as the Supreme Court is slated to hear a case questioning the constitutionality of that law.
After the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which barred gays from serving openly in the military, Pentagon officials promised to review military benefits programs to determine which ones might be extended. The planned announcement will be the first major change in military policy since then.