by Mary Griggs
I’m an Army brat and I well know the myriad of benefits that came with being a dependent. There was housing on post that really helped when living in places with high real estate prices or in foreign lands, a travel allowance that included all our stuff when traveling to and from duty stations, medical care for my numerous soccer injuries and runny noses, the commissary for groceries to feed us all and being surrounded by spouses and kids that understood the stresses, strains, and joys of military life.
I remember being in high school when the first male spouse petitioned for access to the Officer’s Wives Club where we were stationed. I remember some of the discussions that surrounded it as my mom was an officer of the organization at the time. The Fort McPherson group did the right thing, though. They recognized that supporting each other was more important than some ‘tradition’ and that changing the name was only the right thing to do in the face of changing times.
Fast forward a few years and after the policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed but, because the Defense of Marriage Act remains, the usual support to military dependents is entirely lacking for same-sex spouses and, potentially, for their children. The NY Times outlined a lot of the issues facing these servicemembers and their families in their article: Military Rules Leave Gay Spouses Out in Cold.
Now there is the Ft. Bragg Offices Spouses Club refusing to admit the legally married spouse of a Lieutenant Colonel stationed at the base. They offered to allow her to be a guest (not a member) but it should be unacceptable for an organization that is designed to support officer spouses to make such a blatantly discriminatory decision.
The Marine Corps has managed to see the truth and recognizes that family readiness impacts unit readiness. They have informed the spouses clubs operating on its installations that they must admit same-sex spouses if the clubs wish to operate on Marine property.
You would think this would be a no brainer – the only prerequisite for membership to these clubs is to be the spouse of an officer. There are not application forms that ask for race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. And can you imagine the reaction if someone wasn’t admitted because of their race or religion?
It is shameful not to allow the spouse of an active duty service member the right to join a support group to help deal with the life and stress of a military spouse.
And if that wasn’t a good enough example of why DOMA must go, how about the story of Staff Sgt. Tracy Dice?
She was made a war widow after her wife was killed in Afghanistan. Donna Rae Johnson and two other members of her unit – the 514th Military Police Company based in Winterville – died Oct. 1 when a suicide bomber attacked while they were on patrol.
Unlike the way a heterosexual military spouse is treated, the military only informed Donna Rae’s parents of her death, would only allow them to claim the body (until her mother-in-law insisted on Tracy’s presence) and, during the funeral, the flag that had draped the coffin was handed to Dice’s mother-in-law instead of to the grieving widow.
How is this right?
“It’s a tragedy that a soldier could fall and a spouse not be supported,” Tracy Dice said. “It’s 100 percent wrong.”
If we wish to honor the service our military personnel, we also need to respect the sacrifices of their families and provide to them the support all other military families receive as due course.
It is time for DOMA to be repealed. Further, it is time for the Pentagon to make policy changes to recognize and support the families of all their servicemembers. As the Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy stated that some benefits, “…the Department of Defense could legally direct the Services to revise their regulations to extend coverage to Service members’ same-sex partners.” (page 144) These include benefits and support services like access to military family housing, base commissaries and exchanges, relocation and sponsorship for overseas duty stations, and medical care for dependents.
It is time to do the right thing.