Defense officials are reviewing a policy to allow up to 10 days of special marriage leave known as "administrative absence" for gay and lesbian service members who are assigned to a base over 100 miles away from a state where they can legally marry. The policy changes would also render homosexual service members eligible for full benefits such as spousal medical care and "with dependent" status for housing allowances.
To combat political backlash, defense officials are reportedly considering extending this type of administrative absence to heterosexual members overseas who cannot yet marry, though this has yet to be confirmed by the Department of Defense.
Indeed, Republicans in Congress have been quick to denounce the controversial change in policy, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) being at the forefront of such criticism. After Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled the new policy earlier this month, Inhofe expressed incredulity that "any legal authority to grant uncharged leave to couples seeking to be married" exists, reminding Hagel that the Department of Defense is required "to keep Congress advised" when it comes to revising "rights and benefits of our armed forces." Inhofe further warned Hagel that such policy changes "will create disparate treatment between same-sex and opposite-sex couples."
Reps. Harold "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) also wrote to Hagel, admonishing him for conferring same sex couples a benefit based on "sexual orientation, something that all of the department's policy guidance since the beginning of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell policy states should not be done."
Hagel, however, argues the new marriage leave will accomplish the opposite – that it will "level the playing field between opposite sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married."
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