If you had to choose between the love of your life and keeping your dream job, what would you do?
There was a certain sense of powerlessness, of vulnerability, in sitting down and hearing the next 3 years of my life announced in front of my classmates. As I finished my advanced training for Mass Communications, I found out I would be assigned to USS Blue Ridge in Japan. It was an honor and showed that my superiors thought well of me. It also meant I would be leaving the man I loved.
Every year, gay and lesbian couples are forced apart because of the folsom relationship between the infamous "Defense of Marriage" Act and the way military orders are issued. To this date -- more than a year after the repeal of DADT and almost two years since the repeal was signed into law -- the military has made no attempt to wrap their head around this issue.
Every year people are sent on orders to countries like Japan, Singapore, Germany and Italy -- whose strict immigration laws make it impossible to bring your loved one. Military officials seem quick to blame DOMA for this, but there has been no acknowledgement of what is under their control: the military billeting system.
Billeting, a term for the process where orders are issued, is what decides the fate of many a military career. Much of the process involves discussion between an individual service member and their detailer -- a bureaucrat who finds orders for service members. It's a one-to-one discussion, which means well-connected people are able to get the orders they want -- while others are left in the dust.
If the Department of Defense wanted to, they could make life better for gays and lesbians by setting policy that pushes these bureaucrats to allow us to stay in-region, or to transfer to spots within the United States. By allowing gays and lesbians to elect posts inside the United States, they can at least move their family with them. Without any official policy, the military is turning a blind eye to something that gets people to leave the service every year.
I contacted the units that deal with billeting and personnel transfers for the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps. While the initial response varied, they all ended up giving the same response: total silence. In some cases, the public affairs officers were hostile with me as I asked simple questions about whether or not they tried to look out for gay service members.
The military can not hope to keep gays for more than a single enlistment or commission. With the threat of being ordered to a home base or port thousands of miles away and across national borders, many gays and lesbians are taking their benefits and leaving after their first tour of duty. Just like the military's issue with sexual assault, they have yet to match their tough talk about respect with formal policies that show it.
The military likes to hide these discriminatory policies behind "equal protection." After all, wouldn't this be giving a benefit to unmarried gays that is not afforded to heterosexuals? Well, maybe. But these kinds of arguments are silly, especially when you consider the military pays heterosexual service members money for getting married or having children.
Most importantly, this would not impact military readiness. The majority of military posts are in the United States. Most ships, army units, squadrons and Marine battalions go on deployment to Afghanistan and the Middle east from a home base or port in the United States. Keeping experienced people in the service always helps improve force readiness.
The truth is, the military just doesn't care about gays or lesbians, and has been doing everything it can to avoid these issues. Congress did their part with the Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but the Department of Defense has no intention of protecting their employees. It may take another act of congress to get them to change their mind.
When it comes to gays, as the saying goes, "If the military wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one."