WASHINGTON - Same-sex spouses of U.S. military members will be eligible for the same health care, housing and other benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses starting Sept. 3, the Defence Department said Wednesday.
The decision follows the Supreme Court's ruling in June that struck down part of the Defence of Marriage Act, which had been used to deny married gay couples such benefits.
Momentum in the U.S. has been moving toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, with a half-dozen states legalizing it over the past year and President Barack Obama speaking in support of it. Thirteen states now have gay marriage.
A department ban on gays serving openly in the military was dropped in September 2011.
Military personnel in a same-sex relationship who are stationed in a state that does not permit same-sex marriage will be allowed to take leave for travel to a jurisdiction where they can marry legally.
"It is now the department's policy to treat all married military personnel equally," Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said in memo Wednesday to senior Pentagon officials.
The Defence of Marriage Act prohibited the federal government from recognizing any marriage other than that between a man and a woman. In late June, the Supreme Court cleared the way for legally married gay couples to be recognized under federal law.
The Associated Press reported last week that Hagel was considering the new benefits proposal.
The benefits will be made available to same-sex spouses as long as the service member provides a valid marriage certificate. But earlier plans to provide benefits to unmarried gay partners have been dropped, officials said Wednesday.
Defence officials estimate there are 18,000 same-sex couples in the active-duty military, National Guard and Reserves and among military retirees. It's unclear how many of those are married.
Associated Press writer Robert Burns contributed.
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