Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Military Leave Policy Altered to Accommodate Same-Sex Weddings [Updated]

    The American Military Partner Association (AMPA) held its first National Gala Dinner in Washington Sunday, and the Department of Defense used the opportunity to tout the rapid advances the military is making in erasing gender distinctions in policies regarding military spouses and partners. As reported by the Armed Forces Press Service, the keynote speaker at the dinner, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy Rosemary Freitas Williams, told the attendees that the Pentagon had modified existing military leave policy to allow service members to travel to the nearest jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is permitted to be legally married:
“Since not all local laws are equal when it comes to marriage,” Williams said, “we’ve modified the department’s leave policy to allow service members, regardless of their sexual orientation, to be authorized administrative absence so they may travel to the nearest jurisdiction to be legally married.”
    The military leave policy change was not the only announcement at the dinner.  Williams also said there were ongoing "policy reviews of commissary and exchange privileges, the morale, welfare and recreation program, childcare and youth programs and others to ensure access is inclusive."
    Further, AMPA's Community Hero Award recipient Tracy Johnson revealed that the Department of Veterans Affairs had recently notified her that she had been retroactively approved to receive spousal survival benefits after initially being denied.  Tracy and her partner Donna had been issued a marriage certificate in Washington D.C. in February 2012 before Donna was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan later that same year.
    Williams was effusive in her praise for the AMPA and the attendees at the dinner, telling them they were "among the new generation of pioneers within the ranks of military and veterans service organizations.  'History will record your actions and your significance for all time,' she said."
    The AMPA bills itself on its website as "[c]onnecting, supporting, honoring, and serving the partners and spouses of America's LGBT servicemembers and veterans - our 'modern military families.'"
    An email to the press office of the Defense Department seeking clarification on the extent of the leave policy and where the directive originated has not yet been returned.

UPDATE, 5/22/14: Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a DOD spokesman, has now responded via email:

A clarifying policy memo was issued by the Department Sept. 4, 2013...  

As operational requirements permit, commanding officers MAY grant an administrative absence (not paid leave) to service members that are assigned to duty stations located more than 100 miles from a jurisdiction that allows the couple to be married.   

Eligible Service members assigned outside the Continental United States may be granted an administrative absence for a period of up to 10 days, which may include up to 5 days for travel.   

The number of days of administrative absence will be based on:   
 o    The waiting period, required by law, to obtain a legal marriage from the jurisdiction nearest the assignment location; ando    Time to travel to and from the marriage jurisdiction (i.e., a maximum of 2 days travel if a member is assigned in CONUS and a maximum of 5 days travel if a member is assigned OCONUS).

A copy of the September 4, 2013 memo can be found here.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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