Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (Evan Vucci/AP) Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Excitement over the death of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in June, is giving way to amazement over the actions being taken in its wake. Same-sex couples who were denied the benefits that accrue to marriage by the federal government are seeing said government move with great speed to right a wrong.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced this week that it “will make spousal and family benefits available no later than Sept. 3, regardless of sexual orientation, as long as service member-sponsors provide a valid marriage certificate.” That means health care and allowances for housing and family separation will be granted to same-sex married couples. In addition, if a service member is stationed in a jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is not legal, he or she will be granted “non-chargeable leave for the purpose of traveling to a jurisdiction where such a marriage may occur.”

This is remarkable when you recall the heated rhetoric and drama 20 years ago that led to the implementation of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which banned gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Nearly two years after that shameful law was repealed, the Pentagon is leading the way in equality and fairness. That’s as surreal as it is breathtaking.

The Defense Department’s action came five days after the Social Security Administration announced that it “is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due.” For good measure, acting commissioner Carolyn Colvin noted that the demise of DOMA “helps to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve.” Finally.

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