While watching the president's State of the Union address this week, I was thrilled to hear him support equal benefits for veterans and their families, no matter the sexual orientation of the veteran. President Obama recognizes that all service members, veterans and their spouses deserve to receive equal benefits because they make equal sacrifices in service to this country. Regrettably, veterans and their spouses in legal same-sex marriages are barred from receiving the same benefits regularly provided to veterans and their spouses in opposite-sex marriages. This inequality hits close to home; I am legally married to a disabled veteran, but the federal government does not recognize our marriage, because my wife and I are both female. Therefore, I am ineligible to receive the benefits that other veterans' spouses receive, and my wife is ineligible to receive benefits that other married veterans receive. In hopes of changing the laws that compel this inequality, last year my wife Tracey and I challenged those laws in federal court with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the WilmerHale law firm.
Though President Obama's words were uplifting, the image of Speaker John Boehner sitting motionless while the president announced his intention to provide equal benefits to all veterans and their families had an entirely opposite effect on me, my wife and our family. While most of the chamber erupted in applause in support of America's service members and their families, Speaker Boehner did not. In fact, Speaker Boehner so disagrees with the provision of equal benefits for gay and lesbian veterans that he is leading the fight against Tracey and me in our federal lawsuit by defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Perhaps Speaker Boehner would applaud if he realized that the struggles that Tracey and I face are the same ones faced by all married veterans and their spouses when the veteran returns from deployment. While enlisted, Tracey sustained physical and mental injuries during her service. She lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder common among veterans that can be triggered by a traumatic event. She also suffers from multiple sclerosis, a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks a person's brain and central nervous system, and for which there is no known cure. The Department of Veterans Affairs has determined that her multiple sclerosis is connected to her military service.
Perhaps Speaker Boehner would applaud if he knew how similar Tracey and I are to countless vets and their spouses: I take time off work to accompany Tracey to most of her medical and counseling appointments; I comfort her when she wakes up abruptly from a nightmare in a cold sweat; I take time off from work or cancel plans when Tracey is having a particularly bad day; and I'm there to console my wife when she is consumed by guilt for not staying in the Army longer. Surely Speaker Boehner recognizes that the struggles that Tracey and I face are the same as those faced by other veterans and their spouses.
Despite the legal and loving commitment that Tracey and I made to each other in front of our families and loved ones, Speaker Boehner sees us as unworthy of the federal benefits promised to veterans and their spouses, because ours is a same-sex marriage. The federal government has long recognized the role of the veteran as a provider for his or her family, by providing the benefit of monthly compensation for spouses of deceased veterans who die of a service-connected disease or disability. Should Tracey die from MS, I would be ineligible to receive this benefit. And Speaker Boehner sees no problem with this.
By refusing to acknowledge us as legally married, Speaker Boehner -- and those defending DOMA -- demean not only our marriage but the remarkable sacrifice made by my wife, who gave nearly a decade of her life to active-duty military service to the country she loves so dearly. Speaker Boehner may never clap for Tracey and me, but perhaps soon, the federal courts will demand that we -- and all legally married couples -- receive equal treatment under the laws of this great nation.