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'It is the right thing to do'

Associated Press

In February, the Pentagon made an important and welcome announcement, extending new benefits to gay men and women serving openly in the military and their families. There was, however, a catch: the Defense of Marriage Act prevented the Department of Defense from going as far as officials wanted to.

And now that DOMA is no more, the military is ready to finish the job.

The Pentagon will offer full benefits to same-sex military couples after the Defense of Marriage was struck down by the Supreme Court, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.

Hagel said that the Defense Department would immediately begin implementing the changes in the law stemming from the Supreme Court's decision, which had prevented same-sex military spouses from receiving medical coverage, on-base housing and other benefits.

In a statement, Hagel explained, "The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses -- regardless of sexual orientation -- as soon as possible. That is now the law, and it is the right thing to do.... 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."

When Hagel was a conservative Republican senator, he was not a supporter of gay rights, and there were some questions during his confirmation process about whether he would follow through on these issues at the Pentagon. It appears those questions have been put to rest.

Regardless, substantively, it's yet another aspect to the larger breakthrough: "The decision is likely to have a big impact on 17,000 troops and veterans whose same-sex spouses have been shut out of a wide variety of benefits, from health care to military housing -- and even the ability to be buried at the same cemetery."