Actions speak louder than words. While the Pentagon recently announced it will honor gay service members in celebration of gay pride month and Secretary Panetta thanked gay and lesbian service members in a video message for their dedication, the families of these troops continue to sacrifice for our nation without support from the Defense Department. While honoring gay troops is the right thing to do, at the same time, the Pentagon continues to deny much needed support and benefits to the same-sex partners and spouses of gay and lesbian service members.
While the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) currently prevents some benefits from being provided, out-of-date Defense Department regulations are also preventing benefits and support services that are vital to family and military readiness from being offered to these families, and this second tier of benefits does not require a change in law. Whether it be access to on-base housing, access to vital family readiness programs, or even a basic ID card to be able to get on base, the committed partners and spouses of gay troops are simply denied support based solely on the grounds that they are not the opposite sex of their spouse.
Let's be clear. DOMA must be repealed or declared unconstitutional for full equality in benefits and support. However, in the mean time, the Defense Department must update the out-of-date policies in order to support gay military families where allowed by law. While the rest of the federal government has updated numerous policies to include the same-sex partners and spouses of their employees, the Department of Defense continues to fail at meeting its obligations to support all military families by updating their policies. The benefits and support that can be updated have been pointed out repeatedly to the Pentagon thanks to gay rights groups. However, action has still not been taken. The only response continues to be they are "studying" the issue (it has been more than two years since the Comprehensive Review Working Group first started studying the issue).
This has put an enormous strain upon the families of gay and lesbian servicemembers. While heterosexual military families sacrifice so much in service to our country, gay military families sacrifice even more because they are denied the support they need. Unlike heterosexual families, gay military families are forced to live separately when the service member is stationed at a duty station outside of the United States because they are not "command sponsored." Unlike heterosexual families, gay military families are denied access to on-base housing and denied compensation for the costs of more expensive off-base housing. Unlike heterosexual families, gay military families are denied the ability to access much needed on-base counseling services designed to deal with deployments and military life. Unlike heterosexual families, gay military families continue to sacrifice an enormous amount in service to our great nation, all while being treated as if somehow they are second-class.
The time is now to support all military families. As we honor the service of gay service members, remember that they have families who should be honored as well. Denying these families the same support and benefits as their heterosexual counterparts is not the way to do it. It is time for action.
Follow Stephen Peters on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stephenpeters2