As we approach the first anniversary of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," gay and lesbian service members are now serving their nation openly and proudly without being forced to lie about their families. However, their families are still being denied care and support. While these military families go without access to the benefits and support designed to make the sacrifices they make to our nation more bearable, the Defense Department seems to be dragging its feet in updating out-of-date regulations.
What is the hold-up? Well, we might know if the Defense Department would give more significant answers than just that they are examining it. It's been almost a year since gay and lesbian service members have been allowed to openly serve, and the "we are examining it" answer is starting to grow old. How can Defense Department leaders continue to give this answer when military families are being denied basic support services and benefits? Surely the damage being done to family readiness and military readiness deserves more urgent attention.
Some might incorrectly argue that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents all benefits from being offered, however, the rest of the federal government has proven otherwise. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has repeatedly pointed out how out-of-date Defense Department regulations could be updated to allow service members to designate their same-sex spouse or domestic partner as a "family member" without violating DOMA and thereby granting much needed benefits like access to legal services, military family housing, shopping at base commissaries and exchanges, family support programs, overseas "command-sponsored" status, and others.
How is it possible that the Defense Department provides benefits to its gay and lesbian civilian employees, yet denies these same benefits to uniformed troops and their families? Yes, it's true. The Defense Department is currently taking better care of its gay employee's families than it does of military families through same-sex domestic partner benefits for civilian employees. This inequality is especially relevant when it comes to military families who are separated when the gay or lesbian service member is stationed overseas and his or her family must remain behind. While Defense Department civilians are permitted to designate their same-sex partner or spouse as a "family member" for the purpose of sponsorship for their move overseas, military families are simply denied this because the Defense Department hasn't updated its out-of-date regulations for uniformed troops. This has huge financial implications for these families, not to mention quality of life and family readiness issues.
For the hundreds of military families in the American Military Partner Association, this reality is like a slap in the face of their service. Yet, they continue to serve their nation honorably and proudly. It's far past time that this inequality ends. These families are the most dedicated, loyal military families this nation has. This is evident because they continue to serve our nation despite the fact that they do not receive the same support and benefits as their heterosexual counterparts.
With the anniversary of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" approaching, it's far past time we thank and support all troops and their families for their service to our nation, not just the heterosexual ones.