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PHILPOTT: Revised leave policy creates mixed reviews

By Tom Philpott - Updated: September 22, 2013 at 2:48 pm 0

A revised Defense Department policy intended to quell criticism of its August announcement of up to 10 days uncharged marriage leave to gay and lesbian service members assigned where they can't legally marry fails to "fix" the issue of giving same-sex couples a special benefit, said Oklahoma's Sen. Jim Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Service Committee.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he met with service secretaries and the Joint Chiefs to review the issue. Based on those discussions, Hagel said "clarifying guidance" was issued to the services.

The "marriage leave" provision previously inserted in the Department of Defense's Instruction 1327.06 on "Leave and Liberty Policy and Procedures" was removed. Instead, language was inserted that allows the services to grant "administrative absences" to any member wishing to marry who is assigned more than 100 miles away from an area where he or she legally can marry.

Hagel said the revised policy also addresses Inhofe's concern that the department lacks authority to grant uncharged leave. This won't be leave.

"There is long-standing precedent that commanders have discretionary authority to grant liberty to service members. An administrative absence to obtain a legal marriage falls within this authority," Hagel wrote.

Inhofe called Hagel's response "a disappointment."

"The department's decision to cancel the uncharged leave benefit and substitute an 'administrative absence' provision did not fix the issue," his statement read. "Not only does the Secretary fail to disclose his authority to create this administrative leave benefit, but it still violates their own expressed policy . that they will 'treat all military personnel equally.'"

Inhofe said he didn't know of a situation in which heterosexual members would be eligible for administrative absence, presumably because they legally can marry in any state or overseas area. Indeed, a spokesman for Wright could not provide an example of a situation in which a heterosexual service member might be granted administrative absence to marry.

"I would refer you to the various states who can discuss the specifics of their laws," Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen responded in an email. "From the Department's perspective, this policy simply recognizes that there are differences among the states regarding marriage qualifications and those differences sometimes work a hardship on military personnel."

Do heterosexual members face such hardships? He couldn't say.

Inhofe said he "has heard from many military members who believe" their 30 days' annual leave is sufficient to accommodate any marriage travel "no matter the member's orientation."

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a confirmation hearing Thursday on several senior defense executives including Wright, who is nominated to become undersecretary of defense. Her Sept. 4 memo does provide the services more detailed and restrictive guidance on how many days of absence they should grant to members unable to marry within 100 miles of current assignments. The number should depend on two factors.

One is the waiting period that a state or jurisdiction requires either to obtain a marriage license or, after obtaining a license, the wait required before a couple can marry. A second factor is travel time to and from a jurisdiction that allows the marriage. A maximum of two days' travel is authorized if a member is in the continental United States; a maximum of five days' travel is authorized if a member is assigned outside of the continental U.S.

Commands are to calculate days of administrative absences based not on where members want to marry, but on the nearest jurisdictions where they can marry. If two service members are the couple wishing to marry, both can use earned leave in association with administrative absences to extend the length of their marriage trips.

Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partner Association, said: "In effect, nothing has changed. Avoiding references to sexual orientation is completely acceptable and is a practical approach that silences the arguments of the critics."

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To comment, write Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, or email milupdate@aol.com or twitter: Tom Philpott@Military_Update

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