Benefits extended to US gay military spouses

US Army Captain Michael Potoczniak (L) and Todd Saunders (R), partner of ten years exchange kisses during their wedding ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco 29 June 2013 Gay marriage is legal in 13 US states and the District of Columbia

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US military same-sex spouses will gain all benefits open to opposite-sex spouses by 3 September, Pentagon officials have said.

It includes healthcare and housing and will be open to any military member with a valid marriage certificate.

Plans to extend benefits to unmarried gay couples have been dropped.

The move comes after the US Supreme Court struck down a federal law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Pentagon had already extended certain privileges to same-sex couples after a ban on openly gay troops - known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell - was repealed in September 2011. But most benefits had been off-limits until the Supreme Court ruling.

"It is now the department's policy to treat all married military personnel equally," Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a memo on Wednesday to senior Pentagon officials.

The Pentagon also stated it would grant leave for military personnel stationed in a US state that does not permit same-sex marriage to travel to a jurisdiction where they can marry legally.

"This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married," said Navy Lt Commander Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.

The change will enable homosexual troops and their spouses to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC.

Defence officials estimate there are almost 18,000 same-sex couples in the US forces and among military retirees, but it is unclear how many are married.

Gay marriage is legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia, but many other states have explicit bans on same-sex unions.

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