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Pentagon extends limited benefits to gay couples

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is preparing to announce yet another landmark change in military policy, senior officials say. Only weeks after lifting the ban on women in combat, the Pentagon is set to extend certain benefits to the spouses of gay military personnel.

But the full medical, dental and housing allowances gay military couples have been fighting for will likely remain out of reach, at least for now.

Members of the military are federal employees, and extending equal benefits to gay personell would first require the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. That means that even gay couples who have legally recognized marriages in other states still fall under federal jurisdiction at the Pentagon -- and under the rules and restrictions of DOMA.

While the two-tiered system of benefits for gay and lesbian service members remains largely intact, experts believe the Pentagon's latest move toward fairness could help do away with DOMA, eventually:

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