The Defense Department has announced that same-sex spouses of military personnel will receive health care coverage, housing allowances, survivor benefits and all the other benefits that had previously only been available to heterosexual husbands and wives.

The change of benefits is in response to the Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June. While the benefits for same-sex spouses will not kick in until early September, entitlements can be claimed retroactively up to the date of the DOMA decision (June 26).

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To be eligible for the benefits, couples must present marriage certificates from any of the 13 states or the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage has been legalized. Under this new policy, the Pentagon said it will grant leave to personnel who need to travel to one of those jurisdictions in order to get married. (Those stationed in the U.S. will receive seven days leave, while those stationed in other countries will be granted 10 days leave.)

In a statement, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said:

This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department, and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married.

The benefits will be offered to spouses of service members as well as spouses of civilian Defense Department employees. The Defense Department said it did not know how many people will receive benefits under this new policy, but according to official estimates provided last February, about 17,000 personnel was expected to apply for the partial benefits for domestic partners that were offered at the time.

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Gay Spouses of Members of Military Get Benefits [NYT]