(CNSNews.com) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Pentagon "welcomes" the Supreme Court's gutting of the Defense of Marriage Act and "will immediately begin the process" of making the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, as soon as possible.
"That is now the law, and it is the right thing to do," Hagel said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
"The policies governing burial at Arlington National Cemetery will apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex spouses," the announcement said.
Eligibility for burial at Arlington National Cemetery is governed by the 1986 Title 32 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 553, Section 15, and it includes widows or widowers of active duty or retired members of the Armed Forces.
"Every person who serves our nation in uniform stepped forward with courage and commitment," Hagel said in a statement. "All that matters is their patriotism, their willingness to serve their country and their qualifications to do so. Today's ruling helps ensure that all men and women who serve this country can be treated fairly and equally, with the full dignity and respect they so richly deserve."
The Defense Department will immediately start updating its system for issuing identification cards, a process that will take an estimated 6-12 weeks. ID cards are needed to access medical, dental and other benefits.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Hagel said he doesn't know how much the changes will cost.
"I'm sure there will be some cost, but we'll figure it out because we'll follow the law of the land," Gen. Martin Dempsey added.
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