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Pentagon unveils benefits plan for same-sex married couples

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Wednesday announced its plan to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of uniformed military personnel and civilian employees, in response to the Supreme Court ruling in June forcing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where they are legal.

The Defense Department will make spousal and family benefits available by September 3 to same-sex spouses as long as a valid marriage certificate is presented, the Pentagon said in a statement.

"The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the U.S. military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally as the law directs," it said.

In a landmark ruling on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the 1996 national Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman and that denied benefits to same-sex married couples.

The Pentagon said benefits such as TRICARE medical coverage, basic housing allowances and family separation allowances will be extended retroactive to June 26.

The benefits will be granted to service members married after June 26 from the date of their marriage, it said.

Same-sex military couples who are not stationed in one of the 13 states and Washington, D.C., which permit same-sex marriage, will have to travel to one of those jurisdictions to marry, the Pentagon said.

To expedite same-sex spouses' access to full benefits, the Pentagon said it will give military personnel leave, not to be charged against annual days off, to let people travel to get married.

The American Military Partner Association (AMPA), a national support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military families, welcomed Wednesday's announcement, but said it would press for access to benefits in all 50 states.

"The extension of equal benefits for all legally married spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, is a huge step forward for our families who for far too long have been excluded and cut off from support," Stephen Peters, president of AMPA, said in an emailed statement.

(Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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