Gary S. Barthel

Gay Couples to get Base Housing, Medical Care

Jeanette Steele | UT San Diego

July 16, 2013

The reversal of a key element of the federal Defense of Marriage Act means same-sex couples will likely move into San Diego County military housing in the near future.

And spouses of gay service members will start appearing at San Diego Naval Medical Center in Balboa Park and other military clinics for their health care.

Wednesday's Supreme Court decision will have a big impact on the finances of gay military couples, said Gary Barthel, a retired Marine Corps lawyer now specializing in military law at the San Diego firm Higgs, Fletcher and Mack.

"It's going to allow them to recoup benefits that they have not been entitled to otherwise in the past. In some cases this can amount to thousands of dollars a month," Barthel said.

Chief among those benefits is the ability to live for no cost in military housing.

If living off base, troops get a significantly higher housing allowance if they are married, or have children.

For example, a Marine sergeant in San Diego receives a monthly housing stipend of $2,139 if he has dependents, $1,719 if he doesn’t – a more than $400 difference each month.

Military spouses also get benefits worth a lot of money, including health care through military hospitals. The GI Bill can be transferred to a spouse. After a death, survivor pay goes to the widow or widower.

All of those monetary benefits would now be available for same-sex wives or husbands, Barthel said.

The Pentagon estimates that 5,600 same-sex couples include an active-duty service member, 3,400 include a reservist or National Guard member and 8,000 include a military retiree.

Lori Hensic and Camp Pendleton Marine Capt. Shaina Turley will soon be one of those couples.

They are planning an August wedding in Sonoma. They scheduled that date in the hope that the Supreme Court decision would go their way.

Now, all of those benefits will be available to Hensic, a pharmacist and an assistant professor at UC San Diego.

Gary Barthel on U-TTV

She said the security that comes with the Pentagon’s acknowledgment of her union is meaningful, especially as they expect to have children.

"We’re planning that I’ll be the one bearing the children. Under DOMA, if I have the children, they are not her dependents. And some states don’t allow same-sex adoptions," said Hensic, who is on the leadership team of The American Military Partner Association.

"When people say marriage is a state issue, it’s really not for the military. We don’t get to choose what states we live in. The government does."

For Pentagon benefits, it probably won't matter if a same-sex military couple is living in a state that doesn't recognize gay marriage, Barthel said.

"It's money coming out of the federal government and not the state. So in my opinion it's not going to be an issue," he said. "They could be living on a military installation, but even if they are living out in town, the benefits they are seeking are being paid by the federal government."

The U.S. military has been moving toward extending services to same-sex spouses since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in September 2011.

In February, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered they should be eligible for child-care services, hospital visits and military ID cards, which allow access to on-base commissaries, movie theaters and gyms.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that military officials will move quickly to extend the remaining benefits.

"Every person who serves our nation in uniform stepped forward with courage and commitment. All that matters is their patriotism, their willingness to serve their country, and their qualifications to do so," Hagel said.

"Today's ruling helps ensure that all men and women who serve this country can be treated fairly and equally, with the full dignity and respect they so richly deserve."

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