by Mary Griggs
One little known aspect of the policy against “homosexuality” for the US military was that service members who were discharged for being gay or lesbian, had their separation pay cut in half. The policy, which was not part of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute was, therefore, not changed with the law was repealed.
Laura Schauer Ives, managing attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, rightly called this a “double dose of discrimination.” The ACLU The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico had filed a class action lawsuit against the policy.
Under the settlement all service members covered by the lawsuit will be contacted by the government and notified that they are eligible to opt in to the settlement and receive 100 percent of the separation pay that they would have received had they been discharged for any other honorable reason. Federal law entitles service members to separation pay if they have been involuntarily and honorably discharged from the military after completing at least six years of service in order to help ease their transition to civilian life.
Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a step in the right direction and this ruling is another step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the continuation of the Defense of Marriage Act means that LGBT service members continue to face discrimination.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) singles out lawfully married same-sex couples for discriminatory treatment under federal law, thereby denying them more than 1100 federal protections and responsibilities that would otherwise apply to them once legally married. Not only does DOMA allow states to refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of same-sex couples, it removes all same-sex couples, even those who have taken on the serious legal responsibilities of civil marriage and are recognized as married under state law, out of all federal statutes, regulations, and rulings applicable to all other married people.
Because of DOMA, the US military is barred from doing what is best for unit cohesion and morale, which is to treat all personnel and their families fairly and equally. The partners and families of LGBT personnel are restricted from accessing the vast resources offered to most military families, like on base commissary, dependent medical care and the support of other’s similarly situated. Worse, they are denied access to crucial information about deployed family members, including their status, condition, return dates or even whether they have been killed. Finally, they are denied their spousal right to veteran’s benefits and social security.
The basic mission of the military is to provide the forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of the United States. They are volunteers, who join in the knowledge that they may be asked to lay down their lives so that the rest of us may live in peace. Some see the military as a calling and too many have returned to their homeland after having left body parts in foreign lands. A lamentable number never return at all.
Those who put on the uniform are heroes. They should not be treated like second-class citizens because of their sexual orientation. If we are serious about honoring them and the values they defend, the time to repeal DOMA is now.