Davina Kotulski

Moving Toward Equality for LGBT Servicemembers

Filed By Davina Kotulski | October 29, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: DOMA, federal court, gay marriage, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, spousal benefits, Veterans Day

There are 93 spousal benefits that LGBT veterans are denied and 275 provisions related to marriage benefits for federal civilian and military service benefits that LGBT servicemembers are denied, and those are just the ones tallied by the GAO in 2005 of the 1,138 federal rights that come with marriage. Thumbnail image for gays-military-1-2.jpgThis number does not include the random benefits that married servicemembers get (e.g. phone cards or time to call a spouse while deployed).

So, it is nothing short of awesome that this week the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network filed a lawsuit in federal court to secure spousal benefits for legally married gay and lesbian troops. According to the Gay Politics Report, "the suit takes aim at the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the Pentagon and other federal agencies from offering the same benefits that are available to married heterosexual service members to families of openly gay troops."

If you are curious about these rights, they include things like the right to be buried with your spouse in a veterans' cemetery, the right to shop at the commissary, health benefits, student and housing loans, and pension benefits.

Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of SLDN, who has worked tirelessly for many years advocating the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, says that these men and women are "rendering the same military service, making the same sacrifices and taking the same risks to keep our nation secure at home and abroad." So it is "plain and simple. It's about justice for gay and lesbian service members and their families."

Let's recognize Veterans' Day this year by speaking out for full and equal employment benefits for our LGBT servicemembers.

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Ned Flaherty | October 29, 2011 11:44 AM

This blatant inequality denies up to 40% of pay/benefits for military personnel with same-sex spouses, and $250,000 over a career. Major items lost include: spouse health care, spouse housing, spouse travel/relocation, and spouse separation pay. Most presidential candidates still don't support equal pay/benefits: www.marriageequality.org/Election2012

With respect, Mr. Flaherty is only partially correct, but that's understandable given the inexplicable WRONG messaging by SLDN.
While applauding this lawsuit for what it DOES apply to, we fail to understand why SLDN yet again paints over full reality with a disingenuous broad brush. Their misleading press release [which countless ignorant scribes are swallowing whole] unequivocally states that federal law prevents gay military couples from having access to military "housing" period when, in fact, as the Pentagon itself acknowledged in their November 2010 "study" report, only the financial stipend for NON-military housing [typically referred to as “off-base”], called the "Basic Allowance for Housing" at the “with dependent rate" is affected because the definitions of “dependent” trigger DOMA. However, NOTHING prevents gay couples from being allowed to live in "military family housing" [as they do in Great Britain and Australia] but arbitrary Pentagon policy that could be changed NOW with a stroke of the proverbial pen. Even the plaintiffs in this suit don't clearly understand, as revealed by an MSNBC interview with Lt. Gary Ross who said he didn't think anyone at the Pentagon "wanted" to deny any benefits but that just "had to" because of "the law." BULL! Definitions of eligibility for this housing do NOT trigger DOMA but the Pentagon has admitted they CHOSE to deny access for a variety of “reasons” that fail to disguise the actual one—homophobia on their part and/or that of straight couples living in military housing who want to “protect the children.” From the Pentagon report, emphasis theirs:

“For benefits such as these, the Department of Defense COULD legally direct the Services to revise their regulations to extend coverage to Service members’ same-sex partners. This could be accomplished in two ways: leave to the Service member the freedom to designate his or her ‘dependents’, ‘family members’, or similar term; or, revise these definitions to specifically mention a committed, same-sex relationship, and require some type of proof of that committed relationship. The latter is similar to the approach now being taken in Federal agencies for civilian employees.”

Why is SLDN not telling the WHOLE truth, and why are they not investing as much energy in pressuring the Commander-in-Chief to use his legal authority to order the IMMEDIATE change of this arbitrary policy as they are this lawsuit which will take YEARS in court?

It would be more correct to title this article, "Moving Toward Equality for Gay and Lesbian Servicemembers". Trans servicemembers are not included in these actions in any way, shape, or form.