Air Force Senior Airman Shyla Smith, right, and Courtney Burdeshaw hold hands during their wedding ceremony at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau the day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 27. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
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Gay service members who want to tie the knot may be eligible for up to 10 days of “marriage leave” so they can travel to a state that legally recognizes same-sex marriage, under a new Pentagon policy unveiled Wednesday.
The new rules are part of the Defense Department’s push to extend full benefits to gay troops in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in June that declared the federal law limiting recognition of same-sex marriages to be unconstitutional.
Starting no later than Sept. 3, DoD will treat all couples who are married under state law equally, regardless of whether they are gay. All entitlements will be retroactive to the date of the Supreme Court ruling on June 26. That includes Tricare health coverage, housing allowance and family separation pay.
To compensate for the fact that same-sex couples cannot legally marry in 37 states, DoD will grant special leave to gay troops who want to get married but are stationed more than 100 miles from a state that legally recognizes same-sex marriages.
That leave will be for seven days for troops stationed in the continental U.S., and 10 days for those stationed outside the continental U.S., according to a memo signed by Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Any absence in excess of that period will be charged to the service member’s leave account. Each service member will be permitted one marriage leave in his or her military career, the memo states.
Gay troops stationed in or near a state that allows same-sex marriages will not be eligible for the leave.
The new rules effectively supersede a policy announced earlier this year would would have permitted same-sex spouses to access some military benefits by signing a “domestic partnership” declaration document.