Today the Department of Defense finally issued new guidelines for benefits to partners and families of lesbian and gay servicemembers. The “finally” is related to the fact that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) officially ended September 20, 2011 (it was enacted in 1993). The limitations in today’s announcement are, to a significant extent, tied to DOMA, which prevents the military from treating lesbian and gay spouses and families equally. There are other limitations, however, that could have been included.

From OutServe-SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), BREAKING: Panetta Extends Benefits, Robinson Calls on Supreme Court to Finish the Job: (emphasis added)

Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson today praised outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for his decision to extend to nearly the full extent permitted under current law the benefits available to gay and lesbian service members and their families. Though Panetta’s announcement did not include a number of important items that could have been granted – including on-base housing, burial rights at national cemeteries and some overseas travel for spouses, which remain under consideration – Robinson called the package “˜substantive and acknowledged that the Pentagon has done almost as much as it can with the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) still on the books.

OutServe-SLDN has called on the Department of Defense to issue these benefits for more than two years. In recent weeks, the organization has increased pressure on the Pentagon by calling on Secretary Panetta’s presumptive successor, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, to commit to offering the full slate of benefits available under DOMA upon taking office. Senator Hagel did so in a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) last month and reiterated his commitment during confirmation testimony.

The package of recognition, support, and benefits – which includes the issuance of military identification cards, access to family support initiatives, and joint duty assignments – does not address the larger issues of health care, housing, and survivors’ benefits restricted by DOMA and other federal statutes. The Supreme Court is set to consider DOMA next month, and is expected to issue a ruling later this year.

At Think Progress Zack Ford writes:

The memo announcing the benefits notes that should the Defense of Marriage Act no longer apply to the department, policy will be to “˜construe the words “˜spouse’ and “˜marriage’ without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits.’ It also contains a new process for same-sex couples to declare to the military that they are, in fact, domestic partners, which presumably even couples that are already married would have to fulfill to receive the benefits.

Earlier in the day OutServe-SLDN issued another release regarding the death of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan. They included that sad announcement in the later release about extended but still limited benefits.

“˜As encouraging as this step is for our military families, the passing yesterday of … Morgan and the needs of her family – needs in danger of going largely unmet because of the Defense of Marriage Act – reminds us of how far we still are from true equality.’ said Robinson.

Morgan passed away on Sunday from breast cancer after a two-year battle with the disease. She came out publicly on MSNBC on September 20, 2011, the day of “˜Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, and became a nationally recognized advocate against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars her wife, Karen, from receiving military, Social Security and other benefits to help her care for their five-year-old daughter Casey Elena. The Morgans are plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by SLDN in October 2011 challenging DOMA and other federal statutes that prevent the military from providing equal recognition and support to same-sex military spouses. They currently do not receive the same protections as their straight, married peers, and Karen is not entitled to survivor’s benefits in the wake of CW2 Morgan’s death.

That’s one, powerful reason why the use of “finally” related to today’s benefits announcement is appropriate. And it’s one, powerful example, among many others both related to the military and otherwise, that DOMA one major impediment to LGBT equality.

To read the entire DOD Same-Sex Benefits Memo (pdf), go here.

(U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan photo via SLDN)