iOS app Android app More

Gay Military Couples Struggle For Recognition After DADT Repeal

Gay Miltary

By MICHAEL BIESECKER and DAVID CRARY   01/19/13 01:08 PM ET EST  AP

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sgt. Karen Alexander fought for her country in Iraq, but back home she often feels the U.S. Army is fighting against her.

Married to another female soldier with a 4-year-old son, Alexander is denied the same housing allowance and other family-friendly benefits she would be entitled to if married to a man. As far as Uncle Sam is concerned, she's still single.

"I'm married to my best friend, who just happens to be of the same sex as me," said Alexander, 29, who is stationed at Fort Bragg. "We fight for everyone else's rights, but we're treated as second-class citizens."

Nearly a year and half after President Obama and Congress ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," same-sex couples are faced with daily reminders of the conflict inherent in serving openly as gays and lesbians under a government that still refuses to acknowledge their relationships.

Pentagon officials say they are bound by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids the federal government from recognizing any marriage other than that between a man and a woman.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA in June, but advocacy groups say there are numerous steps the Pentagon could take now to treat struggling same-sex military couples more fairly.

Among the steps proposed by such advocacy groups as OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the American Military Partner Association are issuing military IDs to same-sex spouses, ensuring spouses have full access to on-base social programs, and letting same-sex couples qualify for military housing.

"Clearly DOMA prevents commanders from truly treating their service members equally, but there is so much they could do to treat them with greater equity," said Allyson Robinson, Outserve-SLDN's executive director. "The fact they choose not to is shocking."

The Defense Department's public response to these proposals hasn't changed over the past year.

"The Department is conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners," Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen wrote in an e-mail this week. "The benefits are being examined from a policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility perspective."

Almost verbatim, that's the same message conveyed to gay-rights activists in March 2012 by acting Undersecretary of Defense Jo Ann Rooney.

Robinson said it was possible that military leaders were waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA. If the law is struck down, which is by no means certain, the military would have a clear path to treat married sex-sex couples equally.

"If they're waiting, that in itself is a troubling decision," Robinson said. "For some of these service members, waiting even a few months is an incredible difficulty."

The next step for the activist groups will be putting pressure on Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next defense secretary, in hopes that he will take up the cause if he is confirmed.

Hagel, a former Republican senator, has apologized for 1998 remarks referring to an ambassadorial nominee as "openly, aggressively gay" and he pledged this week in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to "do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members."

While the Pentagon brass ponders the issue, Alexander and her wife, Pvt. Allison Hanson, struggle to pay their bills.

The couple met in an Army training program for chemical, biological and nuclear warfare in 2010. They got married last year in Washington, D.C., one of an increasing number places where same-sex marriage is legal.

Despite assurances to the contrary before she transferred, it was only after Alexander reported for duty at Fort Bragg in September the couple learned that post officials would not approve money for off-base housing, even the lesser amount provided to single soldiers with no dependents. Hanson said exceptions are routinely granted to unmarried heterosexual soldiers for various domestic reasons, and that she believes commanders at Bragg have the discretion to do so in Alexander's case if they wanted to.

"I can't live in the barracks with her," said Hanson, a National Guard soldier who lost her job when she followed Alexander to North Carolina.

The couple got a tiny one-bedroom apartment in nearby Fayetteville, where inexpensive housing can be tough to come by. After rent, the payment for their shared car, insurance, utilities and other bills, Alexander's modest enlisted salary provides them less than a $100 a week.

"I don't know if people have this Will and Grace image of how homosexuals live, like we're all rich or something, but that's not the case at all," Alexander said. "We're lucky we're vegetarians, so we don't really spend that much money on food."

Hanson made the agonizing decision to send her son to live with her ex-husband and his new wife in Utah because they cannot afford to care for him.

Beyond pocketbook issues, same-sex couples based at Bragg say they face social stigma.

After returning from a nine-month tour in Afghanistan, 1st Lt. Nakisha Hardy and her civilian wife were invited to attend a retreat at the Pinehurst resort intended to help strengthen relationships that can be strained by long separations. Though Hardy was told in advance that a same-sex couple would be welcome, on the second day they were asked to leave by an Army chaplain.

"He said that the program is funded under DOMA and that we were making other families feel uncomfortable and creating a distraction," Hardy said. "It definitely makes you question whether the culture is changing. People's personal beliefs aren't going to change just because laws do."

Last month, Bragg received national attention when Ashley Broadway, who is married to Lt. Col. Heather Mack, was denied membership in the officers' spouses club because she does not have a spouse identification badge issued by the military.

Though she and Mack have been together for 15 years, the only pass base officials will provide to Broadway names her as a caregiver to their 2-year-old son – the same credential given to nannies.

On Thursday, the club announced they would allow Broadway admittance as a "guest member." She said Friday anything less than full membership is not acceptable.

"It's another slap in the face to my life and that of thousands of gay and lesbian soldiers because it basically it's like, `Yes, please wear the uniform, please sacrifice, put yourself in harm's way, but, by the way, we're not going to take care of your family or your spouse back home,'" Broadway said.

Alexander and Hanson said change isn't coming fast enough. Although she says she loves military life and always thought she'd serve until retirement, Alexander is now considering leaving the Army she has served for nearly 10 years.

"The Pentagon has the option to change things, right now," Hanson said. "My wife and I both raised our right hands and swore to defend the Constitution. At what point does someone protect our rights?"

___

Crary reported from New York.

___

Follow AP writers Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck and David Crary at twitter.com/CraryAP

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Marissa Gaeta And Citlalic Snell Claim A Navy Tradition

    Dubbed <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2011/12/a-public-embrace-between-two-female-sailors-from-california-is-being-hailed-as-the-kiss-heard-round-the-world-by-activists-wh.html">“the kiss heard ‘round the world,”</a> two female sailors, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta and Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell locked lips in Virginia, Beach, VA last December. Gaeta won the coveted and traditional Navy "first kiss" after spending $50 on raffle tickets. Navy officials say it is the first time a gay couple has won the "first kiss" raffle. “It's nice to be able to be myself. It's been a long time coming," said Gaeta, who had just returned from an 80 day assignment in Central America.

  • No Consequences

    The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/10/dont-ask-dont-tell-study_n_1868892.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices">first academic study</a> of the military’s post-DADT, open-service policy shows that there are no detrimental effects regarding the repeal. Published by the Palm Center, a research branch of the Williams Institute at University of California Los Angeles Law School, the study comes almost one year after DADT ending.

  • Randy Phillips Comes Out On YouTube

    Immediately after the repeal, then 21-year-old Randy Phillips, who serves in the U.S. Air Force, captured everyone’s attention by taping his <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVAgz6iyK6A&list=UUFC8Uw64ucDytNm04K60K4w&index=41&feature=plcp">coming out to his father</a> and placing it on Youtube. Phillips’s video went viral and has over 6 million views to date. Later, the young soldier <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/29/airman-comes-out-to-mother_n_988047.html">came out to his mother in a similar fashion</a>.

  • Gay Military Organization Celebrates Repeal

    <a href="http://outserve.org">OutServe</a>, the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel, hosted its first <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/16/outserve-summit-ends-with_n_1014265.html">Armed Services Leadership Summit</a> one month after DADT’s repeal. The keynote speaker, Douglas Wilson, assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and the highest-ranking openly gay official in Pentagon history, summed up everyone’s thoughts by saying, “This is freaking amazing.”

  • First Gay Civil Union Ceremony On A Military Base

    Tech Sgt. Erwynn Umali and his partner, airman Will Behrens, were the first same-sex couple to have a <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_wedding/2012/07/erwynn_umali_and_will_behrens_the_first_gay_wedding_on_a_military_base_.html">civil union on an American military base</a> in New Jersey, where gay marriage is not legal. The ceremony, which took place in front of 150 friends and family, was held on Umali’s home station, McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

  • Openly Gay Soldiers March At San Diego Gay Pride

    This July was the first time gay active servicemen and women marched in uniform in a <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/22/local/la-me-gay-military-20120722">Pride parade</a>, after the Department of Defense allowed the city of San Diego the honor. The celebration drew in an estimated 200,000 attendees who cheered LGBT personnel from different military branches. <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYtILoMz_e4">Click here to watch a video with interviews with the participants</a>.

  • A Gay Military Proposal

    When Navy veteran, Cory Huston, dropped to one knee and asked his boyfriend, U.S. Marine Avarice Guerrero, to marry him, they became the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/27/gay-marine-marriage-proposal-military-base_n_1460179.html">first gay couple to get engaged on a military base</a>. Guerrero returned from deployment and was greeted by Huston at San Diego’s Camp Pendleton, where family and friends watched the joyous occasion.

  • Stephen Hill Gets Booed

    When <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/22/republican-debate-dadt-repeal-rick-santorum_n_977105.html">Stephen Hill</a>, an American soldier in Iraq, asked Rick Santorum if he’d “circumvent the progress that’s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military,” the crowd booed Hill. The incident occurred at the Republican presidential primaries in Florida soon after the repeal of DADT. President Obama chastised the GOP candidates for not saying anything to the crowd <a href="http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/10/02/obama-blasts-republicans-for-silence-after-gay-soldier-booed-during-debate/">when he spoke at the HRC’s annual national dinner</a> and proclaimed that a commander-in-chief must support all military personnel -- gay or straight.

  • Social Networks Go Crazy Over Gay Soldier Kiss

    Perhaps the most <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/gaysouthflorida/2012/02/marine-partner-reflect-on-gay-kiss-seen-around-the-globe-the-world-went-away-for-a-few-minutes.html">memorable gay military kiss</a>, with a picture that garnered 37,000 Facebook “likes,” shared online and on news outlets everywhere, Marine Sgt. Brandon Morgan jumped into his boyfriend’s arms (Dalan Wells), wrapped his legs around Wells’s body, and kissed him. Morgan returned from Afghanistan to Hawaii and said, “The world went away for a few minutes.”

  • Midnight Marriage

    Right at the stroke of midnight on Sept. 20, 2011, Navy Lt. Gary Ross <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-wedding_n_971128.html#s366377&title=Gays_in_Military">wed his partner</a>, Dan Swezy, in Vermont just as the repeal of DADT became official. The couple had been together for 11 years and traveled all the way from Arizona to get married in the first state to allow same-sex civil unions.

  • Tammy Smith Becomes First Openly Gay General

    Just last month, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/13/tammy-smith-first-openly-gay-general_n_1771605.html">Tammy Smith</a> became the first openly gay general officer. Because of DADT’s repeal, Smith can serve without worrying about dismissal based on her sexual orientation.

  • Support From Panetta

    Defense Secretary <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/leon-panetta-gay-troops-pride-month-dadt_n_1599642.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular">Leon Panetta saluted gay soldiers</a>, saying, “Now you can be proud of serving your country, and be proud of who you are.” Panetta’s statement came just before the Pentagon’s gay pride celebration in June.

  • Gay Pride At The Pentagon

    LGBT troops gathered in June for a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/30/pentagon-gay-pride-us-troops_n_1639658.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular"> Pride celebration hosted by the Pentagon</a>. This was the first time such an event occurred, where gay soldiers (former and current) could be in uniform and openly talk about their pre- and post-DADT experiences with government officials.

  • A Holiday Engagement To Remember

    Getting home for the holidays got even better for a lesbian solider whose <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/lesbian-soldier-engagement-leave_n_1195057.html?utm_hp_ref=dont-ask-dont-tell">girlfriend proposed to her</a>. The heart-warming moment was captured on video and was set to Chester See’s “You’re Beautiful.”

  • Veterans Day 2011

    Last year’s <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/12/veterans-day-2011-dont-ask-dont-tell_n_1090053.html?utm_hp_ref=dont-ask-dont-tell">Veterans Day</a> was the first since DADT’s repeal. Cities across the nation honored those who have served with heartfelt tributes.

  • Gay Military Students Enjoy New Benefits

    Graduation season took on new meaning for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/27/military-gay-students-graduation_n_1548880.html?utm_hp_ref=dont-ask-dont-tell">gay students at our nation’s military service academies</a>. LGBT students celebrated their pomp and circumstance openly for the first time and have enjoyed various other benefits (clubs for gay students and the ability to take their same-sex partners to dances) since the repeal of DADT.

  • HRC Celebrates Repeal

    Last year’s <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/01/dadt-repealed-gay-servicemembers-uniform_n_990550.html?utm_hp_ref=dont-ask-dont-tell">HRC fundraising dinner</a> saw gay servicemen and women in uniform for the first time, something that could not have happened with DADT in place. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said, “It warms my heart, and I'm so proud of them, and thank them so much for their service to our country."

  • A Soldier Reenlists

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/25/lee-reinhart-chicago-vete_n_1030624.html?utm_hp_ref=dont-ask-dont-tell">Lee Reinhart</a> was dismissed from service under DADT but became Illinois’ first openly gay man to reenlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) administered the <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-10-24/news/ct-met-dont-ask-dont-tell-1024-20111024_1_lee-reinhart-gay-veteran-sexual-orientation">soldier’s oath</a> in front of a crowd in Chicago’s Center on Halsted, a community resources center for LGBT people.

  • U.S. Marine Corps Leader Supports Gay Personnel

    Late August saw the head of the U.S. Marine Corps, <a href="http://www.washingtonblade.com/2012/08/28/top-u-s-marine-openly-gay-servicemembers-not-an-issue/">James Amos</a>, who first opposed the repeal of DADT, say openly gay servicemembers haven’t been an issue. Amos said, “I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out. I’m very proud of the Marines.”

  • McCain Backs Repeal

    Presidential hopeful John McCain said he would <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/47149.html"> support the repeal of DADT</a> in January, after initially opposing Obama’s decision. McCain said, “I’ve got to do whatever I can to help the men and women who are serving, particularly in combat, cope with this situation.”

  • DNC Platform Clearly States Position For Marriage Equality

    The <a href="http://assets.dstatic.org/dnc-platform/2012-National-Platform.pdf">2012 DNC platform</a> states, “We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples,” in its “Protecting Rights and Freedoms” section. This written statement comes after Obama’s announcement that he supports marriage equality in May.

  • RNC Platform Shows Some Progress

    In its corresponding <a href="http://whitehouse12.com/republican-party-platform/">2012 platform</a>, the RNC says they will continue to defend DOMA. But the platform also states (perhaps in regards to the repeal of DADT), “We will support an objective and open-minded review of the current Administration’s management of military personnel policies and will correct problems with appropriate administrative, legal, or legislative action.”

  • Gay Military Couples Sue Federal Government

    Although the repeal of DADT was a joyous occasion, gay military couples still do not have benefits equal to those of their straight colleagues because of the Defense Of Marriage Act, which doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage at a federal level. The <a href="http://www.sldn.org">Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, along with several gay military families, </a> filed a lawsuit <a href="http://www.advocate.com/news/daily-news/2011/10/27/gay-service-members-sue-equal-benefits">against the federal government</a> just one month after the historic repeal to secure equal benefits.

  • Romantic Reunion At Sea

    After six months at sea, gay U.S. Navy sailor Trent was greeted with a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/us-seaman-romantic-reunion-uss-carl-vinson_n_1542457.html?utm_hp_ref=dont-ask-dont-tell">passionate kiss from his boyfriend</a>, Lee, at the Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego.

  • A Pinning Worth Remembering

    Last December, Air Force Col. Ginger Wallace (right) was promoted in a <a href="http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66924">customary pinning ceremony</a>, where her partner, Kathy Knopf, had the honor of being by Wallace's side. This is believed to be the first time a same-sex couple participated in such a celebration since DADT's expungement.

FOLLOW HUFFPOST POLITICS

Filed by Curtis M. Wong  |