The Bayonet

Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013

Leave to be granted for same-sex marriages

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WASHINGTON — As of a Nov. 7, Army directive, Soldiers seeking same-sex marriages are entitled, in some cases, to an amount of administrative leave in order to travel to a location where such marriages are legal.

In the directive titled “Extending Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses of Soldiers,” Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh spelled out some of the policies regarding the administrative leave for Soldiers seeking same-sex marriages.

The directive also says that marriage-related entitlements for same-sex couples are retroactive to June 26, 2013 — the day of the Supreme Court ruling that changed the laws.

In the directive, the secretary says that Soldiers who are part of a same-sex couple and desire to get married will be granted administrative leave that allows them to travel to the “nearest state (or the District of Columbia) or jurisdiction that allows the couple to get married.”

Soldiers not stationed in a state or jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is legal, or who are more than 100 miles from such a state, are entitled to as much as two days of administrative leave for travel, if they live in the continental United States; or as much as five days of administrative leave for travel if they live outside the continental United States.

Those Soldiers are also entitled to administrative leave for adherence to the “waiting period” required by those states in advance of a marriage.

The policy is meant “to help cultivate and level the playing field” allowing members to go to the nearest jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriages, said Larry Lock, chief of the Compensation and Entitlements Branch within the Army’s G-1.

Chargeable leave used on or after Aug. 13, 2013, that would have otherwise been eligible as an administrative absence under the policy may be replaced at the direction of the commander approving the chargeable leave.

Additionally, the total amount of administrative leave that can be granted must not exceed seven days.

Soldiers stationed in states like California, Washington, Maryland, or New York are entitled to no administrative leave at all. Same-sex marriages are legal in those states. Soldiers assigned to locations that are less than 100 miles from such a jurisdiction will also not be entitled to the administrative leave. A Soldier stationed at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., for instance, cannot get a same-sex marriage in Virginia. But the installation is about 88 miles from Washington, D.C. That Soldier could travel to the nation’s capital, or to nearby Maryland, to get a same-sex marriage.

If Soldiers stationed in such a state wished to travel to another state to get married, they would also be entitled to no administrative leave. A Soldier stationed in California who wanted to travel to New York to get a same-sex marriage, for instance, would not be entitled to administrative leave.

“There would be no need for it,” said Lock. “You would treat them just like you would a heterosexual Soldier who wanted to go someplace to get married, when they could get married in the very state in which they are stationed in. These individuals would be charged leave.”

The Army is now working to ensure equity for Soldiers with same-sex spouses, Lock said. Already, same-sex spouses of Soldiers are given dependent identification cards. Same-sex couples can also file for retroactive housing benefits as well. But there may be some areas of difficulty. One such area is for Soldiers who might be assigned to locations overseas.

“The challenge is going to be in overseas areas, where we have Status of Forces Agreements where it can be problematic with respect to whether or not that particular host country recognizes same-sex marriages,” Lock said.

In those places, it may be difficult for the Army command to sponsor a Soldier’s same-sex spouse, for instance.

Lock said the Army is in about 130 countries where there are uniformed members. “As you can imagine, this could be a significant problem in overseas areas,” he said. “That will be part of the forthcoming implementation guidance, particularly for people involved with the assignment of Soldiers.”

While the secretary of the Army released an Army directive spelling out his intent, the Army is now working to develop that intent into specific implementation policy to make things easier for commanders to understand, Lock said. The guidance is expected to be available to commanders by the end of November.

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