12/20/2011 09:20 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

What a Difference a Year Makes, But We're Not There Yet

Last week Congress passed its annual National Defense Authorization Act with much controversy about detainees. In the wake of that heated debate, however, less attention was paid to several harmful provisions in the House version of the bill aimed at the implementation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) repeal, as well as religious freedom for chaplains, access to military facilities, and whether to restate the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for the military.

In the end, cooler heads prevailed, and the only amendment related to any of these issues came from the Senate, where a more rational and balanced approach to the religious freedom to chaplains carried the day. As they have always been, chaplains remain free to marry whomever they choose, based on the tenets of their own faith.

But this victory did not come without a fight. This week we mark the one-year anniversary since President Obama signed legislation enabling the repeal of DADT, and in that year, supporters of LGBT equality have been forced to defend the progress we've made at every step. Even as our nation's senior military leadership went to Capitol Hill to testify that training and repeal were proceeding smoothly; even as the president, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were certifying that the military was ready for repeal; and even as repeal took effect and has proceeded without incident since September, it has been against a backdrop of rhetoric and attacks from would-be presidents, right-wing special interest groups like the Family Research Council and Center for Military Readiness, and a few members of Congress stuck in the past.

So, what is it that these defenders of the gay military ban want? They want to turn the clock back on the progress we've made, and in the absence of their ability to do that, they want to make gay and lesbian service members second-class citizens. They want to take away the right of chaplains to marry same-gender couples -- even in states that allow it, and regardless of whether or not it takes place on a military post. They want to prevent them from using the same military facilities that all other couples are able to use. And they want to keep service members who are legally married from receiving the same recognition, family support, and benefits as their straight, married peers.

That's why at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, along with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke, we have filed landmark litigation on behalf of eight gay and lesbian married service members and veterans, who are seeking the same treatment that all other service members receive for their families. Together, we are challenging DOMA and three sections of U.S. Code that relate to military benefits for families of service members and veterans. And make no mistake, these military families are not asking for special treatment, as some have charged. They're simply seeking fairness and equality -- and for their country to recognize them for taking the same risks, providing the same service, and making the same sacrifices as all other families.

So as we pass this one-year milestone since the president signed the repeal bill, we celebrate the more than 66,000 gay and lesbian patriots serving in our military today, as well as tens of thousands who came before them and were forced to serve in silence or be kicked out. We pay tribute to allies who have emerged, like Marine Commandant James Amos, who recently stated -- in a reversal from his 2010 testimony on Capitol Hill -- that he saw no issues with the implementation of repeal of the the law. We look forward to continuing cooperation with the Pentagon and other decision makers as we move into this new era.

But we also wait. We wait for the Department of Justice to tell us whether or not it will defend DOMA in our case. If not, will Speaker Boehner's high-priced DOMA counsel take up that mantle and fight against these military families and others like them, who are on the front lines protecting our security and stability as a nation?

What a difference a year makes. But when it comes to achieving full equality in America's military for every qualified patriot who serves -- regardless of sexual orientation -- we are not there yet.