WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Monday that the Pentagon is extending benefits to same-sex partners of military servicemembers, including the right to visit their loved ones in military hospitals.
The announcement falls short of an extension of full benefits, many of them involving health care, because federal law prevents same-sex couples from receiving them. Among the other benefits to be extended: participation in family groups on military bases, issuing dependent identification cards and privileges in commissaries.
"It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country," Panetta said in a statement.
In a recent interview with USA TODAY, Panetta said he did not expect resistance to the extension of benefits once troops were educated about the issue.
"When it comes to benefits, we've got to lay some of the same groundwork," Panetta said in the interview. "You just have got to educate people. People who are serving in the military and putting their lives on the line deserve some of the benefits that go with that. We've just got to be able to tie those two together in a way that the military understands and accepts."
The military has 60 days to determine how to extend the benefits, according to Panetta's memo.