Married gays, lesbians still viewed as
‘single’ by military
November 29, 2012
by Tom Philpott
With repeal last year of the
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law,
many military people, including senior leaders, assumed that married gay
and lesbian couples had gained not only job security but also equality
in allowances, benefits and access to family support programs. That
assumption is wrong.
Since the law took effect 14 months
ago, the Department of Defense has kept in place policies that bar
spouses of same-gender couples from having military identification
cards, shopping on base, living in base housing or participating in
certain family support programs.
Repeal of Don’t Ask,
Don’t Tell, says Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack, 39, "simply
just prevented me from losing my job. It didn’t do anything
Ashley Broadway, also 39, can shop in stores on nearby Fort Bragg, N.C.,
only in the status of "caregiver"for their son,
Carson. Lacking a military dependent ID card, Ashley has
been challenged by checkout clerks when her shopping cart includes items
such as deodorant that clearly aren’t needed by
their two-year old.
If Mack is reassigned, the couple will
have to pay Ashley’s travel and
transportation costs out of pocket. Mack draws housing allowance at the
higher "with dependents"rate only because
of their child. Marriage alone for same-sex couples, though recognized
as legal by 11 states and the District of Columbia, doesn’t
qualify a military sponsor for married allowances or civilian spouses
for entry onto bases.
If Mack were killed during her next
deployment, Ashley would not qualify for full "spousal"survivor
benefits, even though for higher premiums she could be covered as
an "insurable interest ."And as a surviving
widow, Ashley would not qualify for Dependency and Indemnity
Compensation from the Department of Veterans or even be eligible to
receive the folded flag off the coffin in the graveside ceremony, Mack
says, because to the military and the VA Ashley would not be next of kin
despite spending a career together.
A heterosexual soldier "who meets
someone on a Friday night and Saturday gets married would have full
benefits,"Mack says. "But you have
partners who have been together 15 years or more and they
can’t even go on base and shop…That’s a quality
of life issue."
Some disparities of treatment for same
sex couples won’t end unless Congress repeals the 1996 Defense
of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as solely between a man
and woman, or unless the U.S. Supreme Court rules that DOMA is
unconstitutional. The high court was expected to announce soon if it
will review and rule on conflicting opinions on the constitutionality of
DOMA by appellate courts in recent years.
The Obama administration views the law
unconstitutional and won’t allow
Justice Department attorneys to defend it in court. By default, the
government’s defense of DOMA is being led by the general
counsel for the Republican-led House of Representatives.
While the law remains in effect, it
prohibits extension of many federal benefits, including military
allowances, travel reimbursements and health coverage to same-sex
spouses. But Stephen L. Peters II, president of the gay and lesbian
advocacy group American Military Partner Association, says the
Department of Defense has authority to do much more than it has to date
to support service members and spouses of same-sex marriages.
It could give gay and lesbian spouses
access to base housing, commissaries and exchanges, base recreation
facilities and legal services. It could direct the services to open more
family support programs to them and to offer relocation and sponsorship
at many overseas duty stations. The services could also extend
dual-service couple programs to same-sex marriages thus ensuring these
couples too get co-located on reassignments.
No DoD official would be interviewed on
this issue. The department instead issue a statement explaining that a
work group continues to conduct "a deliberative and
comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for
benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic
partners."Benefits are being examined "from a policy,
fiscal, legal and feasibility perspective"and "laws and
policies surrounding benefits are complex and
interconnected."The work group, it says, has been
striving "to fully understand the scope and
Life in service is better for gays and
lesbians since repeal of Don’t Ask,
Don’t Tell. But the department’s
unresponsiveness to qualify- of-life concerns raised by same-sex married
members for the past year, unrelated to DOMA, continue to impact not
only families but readiness, Peters argues.
"It's not like the Pentagon doesn't know which benefits it
can extend…These have been repeatedly pointed
out,"he says. "Not only has the
Pentagon failed to take action but its silence on the issue is
Mack, assistant chief of staff for the
1st Theater Sustainment Command at Bragg, is pregnant
and due to deliver their second child in January. This time Ashley
won’t have to pose as her sister to be present at the birth
in the post hospital. After maternity leave, Mack expects to deploy
She believes commanders would be
pressuring policymakers on quality-of-life challenges for same-sex
couples if they knew more about them. Mack own boss was surprised before
Mack’s promotion in October to be told the Army treats married
lesbians like her as if they aren’t
"He said, ‘That’s not true.
With repeal of Don’t Ask,
Don’t Tell, you get all the benefits.’I
said, ‘No. Any gay or lesbian soldier, regardless of their
marital status, is considered a single soldier.’He had no
As a lieutenant colonel, Mack knows she
is better able to afford $500 a month in extra health insurance for
Ashley, and to cover her travel costs when the family is reassigned.
Enlisted members can’t afford to
handle these disparities, and that’s something
leaders can’t ignore, she says.
If these spouses could at least be
issued ID cards, and gain access to base amenities, she says, it would
go a long way to improving quality of life.
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