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For as long as they've been a couple, Allison Hanson and Karen Alexander have scrimped and saved and done without for the simple reason that they were meant to be together.

Now Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has recognized that same-sex domestic partners and married couples, like Alli and Karen, deserve many of the benefits accorded opposite-sex couples.

It's another momentous decision by Panetta, who last month announced that women warriors will be allowed in many, though not all, combat units. It's also a victory for those of us who believe people who love each other all should have the same rights and responsibilities.

And Alli couldn't be happier. A Utah native and member of the Utah Army National Guard, she and Karen, a career Army sergeant, were married in the District of Columbia on March 15, 2012.

"I love her," Alli says, "and we're going to be together forever."

Karen has had several overseas deployments, including a year in Iraq. When they started living together in 2011, Karen was based at Fort Still, Okla., Alli says. The cost of living was affordable, but when Karen was transferred to Fort Bragg, N.C., things got a lot tougher.

They had thought Karen would be eligible for couples housing allowance, but that didn't work out. So they rented a small apartment for $750 a month and had about $170 every two weeks to buy food and supplies, and pay bills.

And, of course, Alli had to fly back to Utah for monthly drills. "Expensive," she says. She has moved back to Utah for the time being.

Among the benefits that Panetta hopes go into effect by Aug. 31 are insurance, education assistance and hospital visitation privileges. If a partner or spouse dies, his or her survivor would decide on funeral arrangements and receive an American flag.

The military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law has been repealed. What Panetta and, I'm sure, most same-sex couples are waiting for is the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The justices are to hear that case in early March and are expected to reach a decision by summer.

Now, Alli grew up in a Mormon home in Utah and finds it bittersweet to return, even for a short stay. But if DOMA is repealed, her son, who lives with his father, can become Karen's stepson.

Alli also believes that LGBT people in the military "suffer a bit more … This is a step in the right direction, and we'll have to see what happens in June.

"I will be celebrating if DOMA is repealed, and I would be so grateful."

And so will a great many of us who see that the U.S. military has made such progress for straight and gay service members who serve and fight and die for us.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at, and Twitter: @pegmcentee.

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