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Laurence Watts Headshot

Six Months on from DADT Repeal and Nothing's Changed

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When "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) was finally repealed exactly six months ago, on Sept. 20, 2011, few could have predicted that the half-year that followed would be so eventless. That is a testament to America's brave men and women in uniform, but also a condemnation of their leadership.

First the good news: last week The Military Times reported that according to a poll it carried out, DADT repeal has had far less upheaval than expected. Some 69 percent of respondents said they had not been affected in any way. All the fear mongering by opponents of repeal had proved to be baseless. Those of us with same-sex military partners serving under DADT always knew this would be the case.

Now for the bad news: there has been no change in how same-sex military couples are treated by the U.S. military. They continue to be ignored, remain unrecognized, and lack the support systems and benefits given to their equally long-suffering straight equivalents. This is a surprise.

Today is March 20, 2012. DADT might have been repealed September 20, 2011, but the legislation that allowed repeal to take place was passed in December 2010. Three months before that a federal judge ruled DADT unconstitutional in response to a suit filed by the Log Cabin Republicans. Moreover, the DADT "survey" (and I use the term in the very loosest sense of the word) that was conducted to assess service members' thoughts on repeal began in July 2010. If you want to go back even further, Obama included repeal of DADT as part of his 2008 presidential election platform. That was four years ago. That's how long we've been talking about the issues surrounding DADT.

All of this begs one simple question: what exactly is the Pentagon currently doing to ensure that LGBT military personnel and their families are treated equitably? Aside from a statement made by the Pentagon on Oct. 28, 2011, which listed 14 benefits available to same-sex married couples, we have heard nothing.

As the partner of a Navy commander who has served his country for 24 years, I am still unable to independently visit him on base, shop at the commissary, use base gyms, or benefit from subsidized dental and health care. Any woman he might have married would be entitled to all of these. Moreover, my partner is still paid less than his straight, married colleagues of equivalent rank, because we do not qualify for certain PCS (permanent change of station) benefits, BAH (basic allowance for housing), or FSA (family separation allowance). Collectively, this has the effect of completely separating me from my partner's employer. This was particularly hard to deal with when he was stationed in Afghanistan for a year, and we are already thinking about how our lives will change when he receives new orders later this year. I will have to move to wherever he is stationed. That means potentially saying goodbye to family, friends, and employer just so that we can be together. Where is the support from the U.S. military? Nowhere. Does it exist for married heterosexual couples? Yes, and with good reason.

It could be argued, though the Pentagon has not done so publicly with finality, that DOMA prohibits the U.S. military from extending to same-sex spouses a number of benefits presently available to opposite-sex spouses. That may be true, but that hasn't stopped the State Department from extending benefits to same-sex couples within its department. I am unconvinced that creative ways cannot be found to provide support to same-sex military families, at least as a stop gap until DOMA is eventually ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. With the commander-in-chief on record as saying he believes DOMA is unconstitutional and refusing to defend it in court, why hasn't the Department of Defense proactively found a way to recognize same-sex spouses or domestic partners as dependents rather than spouses? That at least would then allow them to apply for Dependent ID cards.

Since Congress passed DADT repeal in December 2010, same-sex marriage laws have passed in New York, Washington, and Maryland. This should bring the number of states with marriage equality to eight (plus Washington, D.C.). Moreover, a further 11 states have domestic partnership legislation in place. What is the Pentagon's strategy with regard to recognizing the reality of same-sex military families in these jurisdictions? I fail to believe the Department of Defense is relying solely on DOMA being overturned in the next couple of years. If this doesn't happen, then what's the backup plan? Will the Department of Defense then make provision for the inclusion of domestic-partnered same-sex couples? Why not now?

There has, of course, been evidence of progress over the past six months, but none of it has come from the Pentagon: Obama's decision not to defend DOMA's constitutionality in a military context is, of course, very welcome; homecoming kiss photos of Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta and later Sgt. Brandon Morgan both went viral; recently, representatives of the First Lady's "Joining Forces" initiative met with representatives of America's Military Partner Association (AMPA); and this Easter same-sex military couples and their children will participate in the White House's traditional Easter egg hunt. While all this has gone on, the Pentagon has been silent.

It saddens me that I am writing about the same issues I wrote about six months ago in an article for CNN on the very day of DADT repeal. Back then I was at least cheered by the fact that repeal had just taken place. I also had hope that the U.S. military might now embrace its openly gay service members and their families. Six months on, I'm not so sure.