DADT Repeal Doesn’t Mean Equality

The repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy has been a very good thing, of course, but it hasn’t ensured real equality for gay servicemembers and their families, in part due to the Defense of Marriage Act. The New York Times spotlights some of the continuing injustices.

Nakisha Hardy spent the first nine months of her marriage on a remote Army base in Afghanistan, a tour of duty punctuated by sporadic mortar blasts and constant e-mails to her spouse back home.

The strains of that separation lingered even after First Lt. Hardy returned to Fort Bragg in September. So she signed up for a military retreat to help soldiers and their husbands and wives cope with the pressures of deployments and relocations.

But less than 24 hours after arriving at the retreat, she and her spouse were told to leave. The military chaplains who organized the program last month said that the couple was making others uncomfortable. They said they had determined that under federal law the program could serve only heterosexual married couples.

Lieutenant Hardy is a lesbian in a same-sex marriage who had hoped that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 would allow her to fully participate in military life. But she and many other gay and bisexual service members say they continue to encounter a raft of rules and regulations barring them from receiving benefits and privileges routinely accorded to heterosexual service members.

Lieutenant Hardy had been assured by the chaplain’s office in the weeks before the retreat that she and her wife were welcome to attend. The chaplains said in hindsight that those assurances were given in error.

“I felt hurt, humiliated,” said Lieutenant Hardy, 28. “These were people I had been deployed with. And they were telling me I can go to fight the war on terrorism with them, but I can’t attend a seminar with them to keep my marriage healthy.”

That’s because, despite the repeal of the prohibition on openly gay soldiers, their marriages are still considered to be less important than opposite-sex couples. And they are still discriminated against in many ways:

Gay marriage is now legal in nine states and in Washington, D.C. But because same-sex marriages are not recognized under federal law, the spouses of gay service members are barred from receiving medical and dental insurance and surviving spouse benefits and are not allowed to receive treatment in military medical facilities. Spouses are also barred from receiving military identification cards, which provide access to many community activities and services on base, including movie theaters, day care centers, gyms and commissaries.

Gay service members who are married are not permitted to receive discounted housing that is routinely provided to heterosexual married couples.

This is why DOMA must die, whether by legislative repeal or judicial overturning.

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  • Wes

    This is why DOMA must die, whether by legislative repeal or judicial overturning.

    Ever since Obama came out in favor of marriage equality, I’ve been wondering whether someone in congress might try to repeal DOMA. But I would guess that’s impossible as long as the Republicans control the House. We’ll probably have to rely on the courts to resolve the issue.

  • baal

    WTH! Thanks for the post, ED. I had no idea. I somewhat assumed a secondary clean up ripple effect from the Presidents support for the end of DADT much like Brown did.

  • eric

    A repeal is the right thing to do. But if Congress won’t support it, the President can still issue an executive order that the armed services should give these things (medical insurance, program access, base access, etc.) to same sex spouses. They are part of the executive branch. If the head of that branch wants to expand the medical coverage (et cetera) given to his employees, he can.

    Congress would have to actively pass a law to stop it. I’m guessing a lot of GOP lawmakers who might passively support DOMA by not letting a repeal go forward would still balk at signing on to a bill that prevented service member spouses from getting medical care.

  • Eric, it’d sure as hell produce a lot of discord among the Republican House — you known, between the ones who are insane and the others who are batshit, bugnuts insane.

    With 50-plus percent of Americans supportive on the marriage issue and the recent success of ballot initiatives, it could make quite the campaign hay for Democrats: “Republicans: they say they support the military, but not our gay brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, aunts and uncles.”

  • wscott

    I continue to be amazed at how *little* resistance/reaction to the repeal of DADT we’ve seen from inside the military. I was on record as expecting the transition to be far less painless, along the lines of racial integration of the military, which took decades to fully work itself out. I’ve seldom been so happy to be proven so wrong!

    None of which is meant to minimize what LT Hardy and others are going through. I agree with eric & fifthdentist about an executive order, and wouldn’t be surprised if we see one at some point. But quite honestly I think the Pres has a few other things on his plate right now.

  • jnorris

    Remember during the primaries the Republican Tea Party booed an active duty Marine, in Afghanistan or Iraq, when he told the audience he is gay.

  • But it would be a quandary for Republicans in, say, places like New York, where being anti-gay could actually be a hindrance to their re-election. In the old days someone in that position could vote “the will of his constituents” and get a dispensation from leadership. But today someone making a pro-gay vote likely will be “primaried” by a teabagger who could pull off a win in a shallow primary voter pool but be too extreme to beat a Democrat in a moderate district.

    I know I’ve thought a couple of times that the wheels had come off the Republican Express, but there seem to be some real fractures showing in regards to immigration, gay issues and between those who realize compromise is necessary to take care of important business and those who’d rather drink Drano than be seen as cooperating with Nancy Pelosi. May they live in interesting times.

  • sivivolk

    It seems like military chaplains fill a lot of positions and undertake a lot of duties that I’d expect to be handled by non-religious personnel like social workers or psychologists or counselors. Why are they running a marriage retreat?

  • magistramarla

    I’m a military spouse, and my DH has been in the military for over 30 years.

    I truly get angry when I read things like this, and there have been many examples.

    The reason that we have the benefits that we have for spouses and children is to make it easier for the military spouse to concentrate on his/her job, knowing that the spouse and children are being well taken care of.

    The gay military members are doing the same jobs that the heterosexual members are doing.

    Their families deserve the same privileges and the military member deserves the same peace of mind.

    I’m on the board of directors of a military spouses’ club. I really wish that the spouse of a gay military member would petition to become a member of our group. I would stand up for his/her right to join, and I would gladly escort that person onto the military facility to participate in events.

    I’ve been around long enough to see the club change from being the Officers’ Wives’ Club to being the Officers’ Spouses’ Club. Many ladies had problems with accepting that we had to welcome the male spouses of female officers.

    They have learned, and our clubs are stronger for it. It’s time to accept the spouses of our gay officers.

    It’s also time for the families of all gay military members to have the benefits that I take for granted.

  • eric


    I agree with eric & fifthdentist about an executive order, and wouldn’t be surprised if we see one at some point. But quite honestly I think the Pres has a few other things on his plate right now.

    I only partially buy that excuse. It should take practically no effort to issue such an order; the whole point of my suggestion is that he can make a partial fix without negotiating with Congress at all. He can just do it. However, that would certainly affect other negotiations he probably wants to make with them. My own personal take is that if they aren’t going to come to the table anyway, it can’t hurt to tick them off a little more. But that’s just opinion.

    Maybe the really smart thing is to threaten this 6 months ahead of the mid-terms, rather than 2 years ahead of them. Make the question about whether they support expanded coverage of military spouses an election issue.

  • fastlane

    The military chaplains who organized the program last month said that the couple was making others uncomfortable.

    Then tell those others to grow the fuck up and learn to deal with things that make them uncomfortable.