“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may be gone, but the inequalities linger for married and partnered servicemembers, including those with children. Several of these families are telling their stories through letters they have written to Congress, as part of a new campaign from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and OutServe.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Victoria A. Hudson is married to Monika Poxon, and they live in California with their two daughters. SLDN informs us that she “has served in the U.S. Army Reserve for more than 32 years, including four years of enlisted service. She is a veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Joint Endeavor (peace enforcement mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina), two Operation Noble Eagle domestic tours of duty following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., and one tour in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.” As a convoy commander, she led more than a dozen convoys in Iraq.
Yet because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and other federal laws do not allow the military and Department of Veterans Affairs to offer the same benefits and support to same-sex spouses as to opposite-sex ones, Hudson cannot list Poxon as a person to be notified if she is missing, wounded, or dead. Hudson writes in part:
We have a three year old who thanks to modern American culture, knows that “being married” is what you do with someone you love. How do I explain to her that her mommies are married but only sometimes? She knows the Army is where I go to work, how do I tell her that the Army doesn’t consider her other mommy as part of the family, her parent or that her mommies are married? . . . Death benefits, health care, education, recreation, and even the simple act of grocery shopping; my wife, my daughters’ parent, is denied access.
In another letter, Air Force Technical Sergeant Erwynn Umali, a Professional Military Education Instructor, and Will Behrens, a civilian financial manager, write of their June 2012 civil union ceremony held at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. Each has two children from previous relationships. Despite their “newly joined family,” they say:
- We must provide separate health insurance for both Will and his children. We are sure that you are aware of the rising health care costs, and this puts a great financial strain on our new family.
- Our entire family is not able to gain access to base, commissary and exchange, because they are not granted military ID cards.
- We are also not offered the military death gratuity and pension. God forbid, if something were to happen to Erwynn on duty, Will would not receive the military death gratuity and pension benefit that is afforded to other married couples—and that he would need to help care for our children.
- We are not afforded the housing benefits that other military couples and families are given once they get married, nor are we allowed to obtain base military housing.
And while these concerns are significant, sometimes it’s the smaller, day-to-day indignities that are so hard to bear. For example, Will and the kids recently threw a surprise birthday party for Erwynn, but in order to do so, they had to find someone on base to come to the gate and escort them – but only after being forced to fill out paperwork. No other family would be forced to do this.
I wrote about some of these inequalities almost a year ago, when DADT was first repealed. It’s a shame there seems to have been no movement by the government to address them since then. As the families above both note, they serve and sacrifice just the same as their straight colleagues in order to protect our country. Don’t their families deserve equal recognition and treatment in return?