The night Don't Ask Don't Tell formally ended, I was at a celebratory event at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. While I attend many events and cocktail parties in my role as Speaker of the New York City Council, this one was different. People weren't just celebrating the advancement of a major civil rights victory; people were excited that they could reenlist in the army and put their lives on the line to serve our country. At that moment, I could not have been more proud to be an American.
The United States joins a long list of other democratic countries to allow gays to serve openly in the military. This will only strengthen our armed forces. No longer will people with the desire and the skills to serve be prohibited from enlisting because of whom they love.
The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell sends an important message that you will not be judged by your sexuality, but by the content of your character. There are particularly special moments when government stands on the side of the people, taking a stand against injustice in our country and strengthening the foundation of what it means to be equal and free. The repeal of DADT is one of those moments.
But while this is a big step forward for the gay and lesbian service members, and the country at large, the repeal of DADT still doesn't mean complete equality in our armed forces. There are still several other discriminatory laws in place that will prevent gay Americans from enjoying the same rights as their straight peers, and that is something we need to work to change.
Service members will now be free to marry or form a civil union or domestic partnership with whomever they chose, without fear of being discharged. However, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the military from recognizing same-sex marriages. Even if a service member marries in a state that legally allows same-sex marriage (something, I am proud to say we recently passed in New York), their spouses will receive limited benefits.
The federal prohibitions outlined in DOMA mean that the spouses of gay service members are not eligible for base housing and allowances for off-base housing, legal counseling, certain health benefits, help finding work, ability to shop at military base stores, and, in some circumstances, financial support if the service member dies in the line of duty -- benefits granted to all heterosexual couples. Current Department of Defense rules state that only "dependents" can get military IDs, and under DOMA, same-sex partners of service members cannot be designated as dependents.
This treatment reminds us that as far as we have come, we are still a long way from granting full equality to our LGBT service members.
This is our time to work together and create laws enshrined in our Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal." In the end, equality isn't just a victory for the LGBT community but a victory for all Americans. Time and time again, history has shown that when justice is extended to any, we all reap the benefits. Our families, communities, cities and states are stronger for it. And though the promise of a perfect union has yet to be fulfilled, it is only with our continued dedication and fight that we will make it happen. As Americans our futures are bound together, and until we give all families equal status, no family will truly be equal.
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