The recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a great step for equality in this country. Having served in two combat zones with good friends and outstanding soldiers who were gay, I was overjoyed that our nation abolished this oppressive policy. Unfortunately, while homosexual service members can now serve openly, they will remain second-class citizens when it comes to their legally wed spouses.
Even though a service member may legally marry a same-sex spouse in several states, the U.S. military will not recognize these spouses as dependents. As a result, the husbands and wives of gay service members will not receive the benefits and support that accompany being a military spouse, which are comprise one of the most essential aspects of maintaining a fighting force with high morale and stability. Married service members also get paid more and have larger housing allowances. To deny the legal spouses of service members these benefits based on their sexual orientation seems like an incomprehensible injustice – particularly in light of the DADT repeal.
The final version of H.R. 2965, the DADT repeal, states: “Nothing in this section, or the amendments made by this section, shall be construed to require the furnishing of benefits in violation of section 7 of title 1, United States Code (relating to the definitions of ‘‘marriage’’ and ‘‘spouse’’ and referred to as the ‘‘Defense of Marriage Act’’).
The authors of the DADT repeal seemed to think, as many others do, that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) forces the federal government to ignore states’ ability to define marriage as they see fit. Here is the text: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
So what can be done to overcome this next hurdle to equality for the U.S. military? Repealing DOMA would be a good start. However, the quickest solution might be to amend military regulations to replace “spouse” with “legally recognized partner” or something similar. This would shirk the larger battle of defining marriage, but it would provide immediate support to homosexual service members and their spouses. With all the rhetoric about supporting the troops and being concerned about their readiness, effectiveness and morale, this should be one of the top priorities.
For more discussion on unresolved questions following the repeal, listen to this report from NPR.