US to offer benefits to spouses of gay troops: Officials

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon plans to extend some benefits to the spouses of gay and lesbian troops, officials said on Tuesday.

The decision was expected to be formally announced within days, before outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta retires this month, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But the officials could not say which benefits would be provided to same-sex couples.

Since the Pentagon lifted a ban on openly gay recruits serving in uniform in September 2011, it has grappled with questions about benefits as it must comply with a law prohibiting the federal government from granting same-sex marriages legal status.

But officials have been looking at ways to extend some benefits without violating the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

The Pentagon move is in keeping with President Barack Obama's inaugural address last month, in which he signaled a push to ensure equal rights for "our gay brothers and sisters." The decision will also help shape Panetta's legacy as Pentagon chief, after having opened the door to women in ground combat in a milestone step unveiled last month.

Rights advocates have called for offering gay spouses military identification cards and access to family service programs and military shops.

The issue has been under review for several months by the chiefs of the armed services, who have been studying a proposal on providing benefits to spouses of gay troops.

The Pentagon is "conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners," said spokeswoman Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde.

The department already allows some benefits for spouses of gay personnel.

The current rules permit a service member to choose whoever they want as a beneficiary for their life insurance and other related benefits or services in the event of death, including transportation costs to burial ceremonies.

And a wounded service member can choose their gay spouse as a "non-medical" caregiver during their recovery.

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