Military Same-Sex Couples Just Playing House

One year after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” homosexuals in the military have undergone a smooth transition. However, the Armed Forces still does not admit Transgenders nor award same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples. Since DOMA has been the law of the land, with marriage defined as a union between man and woman, since 1996, the federal government does not recognize same-sex couples as legally married. Consequently, they are not entitled to federal benefits. They might as well be “playing house.”

Why the Military Excludes Benefits for Same-Sex Couples

Given the military’s’ Zero Tolerance’  for discrimination based on sex orientation, it’s ironic that DOMA forces the military to engage in the very discrimination that it prohibits its service members from engaging in ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy.

Not just the Defense of Marriage Act is to blame, but also the failure of the Department of Defense to update its regulations and create a new “qualifying relationship” status for same-sex couples. The military treats heterosexual military families differently from gay and lesbian military families. Same-sex couples are treated as “second class” and denied access to the support systems and benefits in place to help deal with the military lifestyle.

Some Discriminatory DOD Regulations For Same Sex Couples

  • Joint Duty Assignments. Married same-sex military couples are ineligible for co-location for duty assignments.
  •  Free Legal Services.  Not entitled; have to seek out private attorneys.
  • Military Family Housing. Gay and Lesbian members with children qualify, but legally married ss couples without children aren’t eligible.
  • Shopping at Commissaries, PX, BX & NEX: Same-sex spouses, parents-in-law, step-children are excluded as “dependents.”
  • Family Programs.  Each installation commander determines the extent to which ss spouses and partners have access to deployment support, marriage, and family counseling, relocation assistance and financial management.
  • Spousal Privilege in Courts Martial.  Ss spouses can be forced to testify against their loved ones and disclose confidential information shared during the marriage relationship.
  •  Relocation & Overseas “Command-Sponsored” Status.  Relocation support and funding is not available to ss partners.
  • Basic Allowance for Housing at “with dependent rate.” Excludes ss spouses of service members, parents-in-law, and step-children from ss marriage.
  • Medical & Dental Insurance and TRICARE.  Excludes a service member’s same-sex spouse, step-children, and parents-in-law.
  • Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Programs. Same-sex spouse cannot receive any more guest privileges than a girlfriend or boyfriend of a straight service member.
  • Relocation & Transportation. Benefits are not available to legally married ss spouses, but children of gay or lesbian service members can receive travel and transportation allowances.
  • Family Separation Allowance.  Benefits exclude ss spouses.
  • Surviving Spouse Benefits. Don’t receive annuities based on retired or retainer pay.
  • Family and Advocacy & Spouse Abuse Services. An abused ss spouse will not receive military-sponsored protection and emergency shelter or ongoing financial support.

5 Ways DOMA Hurts Gay Military Families – From Freedom to Marry 

Spouses Are Kept in the Dark.  If a service member is killed, wounded, or missing in action, there is no requirement to notify his or her spouse.

No Access To Health Care.  A service member’s spouse and his or her children are denied health and dental insurance coverage under the service member’s plan.

Physical Separation.  A service member and his or her spouse can be forced to live in separate housing.

No Death Benefits.  If a soldier is killed on active duty, a spouse is denied key benefits.

No Support.  If a service member is given a new assignment, there is no structure in place to keep the family together.

Lawsuits Around the Country

The Defense of Marriage Act is being challenged in a number of court cases, including one by military service members filed in Massachusetts last October. Those service members, as  others, were suing over a wide range of benefits that married heterosexual couples receive.

Obama, Holder, and The Courts

The Obama administration has said it will not defend the law in court. It concluded that legislation banning same-sex couples from receiving military and veterans benefits violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment and will not longer defend the statute in court.

Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter to Congressional leaders recently: “Neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs identified any justifications for that distinction that would warrant treating these provisions differently from Section 3 of DOMA.”

Holder said that Congress would be provided a “full and fair opportunity” to defend the statutes in the McLaughlin v. Panetta case if they wished to do so. He also stated that DOJ would no longer defend the provisions in Title 38 which prevent same-sex couples who are legally married from obtaining benefits for medical and dental, basic housing allowances, travel and transportation allowances, family separation benefits, military identification cards, visitation rights in military hospitals, survivor benefits, and the right to be buried together in military cemetaries.

Titles 10 and 32 of the U.S. Code also define a spouse as someone of the opposite sex. They were not mentioned in Holder’s letter.

  • http://www.leonardmatlovich.com Michael Bedwell

    While this makes several good points, and does reference “regulations,” with respect, overall it reinforces the popular but totally totally wrong belief that ALL benefits for LGB military couples are banned by DOMA. The Pentagon itself made unequivocally clear in its November 2010 pre-repeal report that at least two important benefits could easily be extended to such couples with the proverbial stroke of a pen: free legal services and access to military family housing evenif one doesn’t have children. Per the report, emphasis theirs: “For benefits such as these, the Department of Defense COULD legally direct the Services to revise their regulations to extend coverage to Service members’ same-sex partners. This could be accomplished in two ways: leave to the Service member the freedom to designate his or her ‘dependents’, ‘family members’, or similar term; or, revise these definitions to specifically mention a committed, same-sex relationship, and require some type of proof of that committed relationship. The latter is similar to the approach now being taken in Federal agencies for civilian employees.” They are simply CHOOSING not to; in the latter case making the transparently phony excuse that it would be unfair to unmarried straight couples who also want to live in military housing. It’s past time serious pressure was put on the President and SecDef to use their clear authority to make this happen.

    In addition, while a survivor wouldn’t be treated as a “spouse” per se, several benefits would be available IF the military partner has appropriately completed the right paperwork. QUOTE, emphasis mine:

    “[T]here are some benefits that are NOW, under current law and regulations, FULLY AVAILABLE to ANYONE of a Service member’s choosing, INCLUDING A SAME-SEX PARTNER, because they are ‘member-designated’ benefits. Examples here are beneficiaries for Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance and Thrift Savings Plan, MISSING MEMBER NOTIFICATION, and hospital visitation access. If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, Service members may designate a same-sex partner for these benefits without then having to conceal the nature of the relationship from the military … These designations are usually made on the Service member’s DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data (RED) and the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) Policy. Service members may want to designate permissible benefits to someone other than a person in the priority list set by law. This COULD INCLUDE AN UNMARRIED PARTNER, significant other, friend, or distant relative. SERVICE MEMBERS MUST BE DILIGENT to ensure their DESIRED beneficiaries ARE PROPERLY DOCUMENTED in the event the Service member dies or goes missing while serving.” – “Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Department of Defense, November 30, 2010.

  • Sarah Riggle

    Yet a retired service member can get married, put the wife of TRICARE Standard and then transition; they will get all the benefits that any other married military couple gets.

  • http://straightparentgaykid.blogspot.com Wesley Davidson

    Thank you Michael and Sarah for enlightening me. Wesley