Important as it was, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” did not put gay and lesbian service members on an equal footing with their straight counterparts. A poignant story by Times staff writer Phil Willon described how partners of gay service members are still denied benefits available to other couples, including marriage bonuses and the right to seek joint deployments. Gay and lesbian partners of service members can’t even use the base commissary.
Superficially, this inequality can be rationalized. Couples who receive spousal benefits are married, while most gay and lesbian couples are unmarried. The problem with this distinction, of course, is that gays are barred from marrying in most states. Equally important is the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which defines marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman. (It also authorizes states to refuse to recognize same-sex weddings performed in other states.)
As long as DOMA is on the books, the military may not treat even married gay couples the same as married heterosexual couples. Repealing DOMA and related legislation would allow gay couples that have been married to receive spousal benefits, including housing. As more states legalized same-sex marriage, more married gay couples would be eligible for military benefits.