The time has finally come. U.S. Military Service members who are gay or lesbian are no longer banned for who they love or asked to lie about it. This is a huge victory for the Service, and a very personal victory for some of my friends who have served with “one foot out the door” for ten years or more. But what does that mean, especially in a nation where some states do not offer equality to every American? This really only means that there is no legal recourse for kicking LGBT members out of the military or restricting them from joining. But equality for LGBT service members has still not come.
What am I talking about? To begin with, Chaplains are only required to offer appropriate services which are allowed by the state in which they currently serve—which means that if a gay service member wants their ceremony with his partner on post and/or in a Post Chapel, Chaplains can refuse. And where are gays and lesbians who want a religious service supposed to go? They are already in a state which does not recognize them as equal. But this is actually the least of it.
Same-sex marriages are still not equal to heterosexual marriage in the military. Heterosexual couples are entitled to certain benefits such as a higher allowance for housing to accommodate dependents. They are also given compensatory pay when they are forced to be separated from their spouse for 30 days or more. If both members of a couple are service members, they get to be assigned to the same duty station—even if they were married after receiving orders. You may have already guessed it, but same-sex couples do not get a single one of these benefits!
This is because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as federal law, prevents the military from recognizing same-sex marriages. There are soldiers who are forced to put their spouses as a secondary contact for emergency contact information as a “close friend.” The way that this all plays out, especially for dual-military same-sex couples is that they do not get assignments based on co-location preference, which means they will likely soon be separated from their spouses. Plus, they are not entitled to the separation pay which heterosexual couples and parents are entitled to when they are forced to serve where their family cannot follow. If they are fortunate enough to be at the same duty station, they will not receive the regular amount of money for housing, or, if they are assigned on-post housing, they will be restricted to housing which is allotted for single or small family soldiers (a one bedroom home as opposed to two or three). One of my friends informed me that upfront upon marriage he and his husband will be out of $2,500 in benefits just because they’re not heterosexual, and that amount would continue to rise if they stayed in the military.
This is not to downplay the victory that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has brought, but it is important to realize that the issue is not over, not only at your individual state level, but with the military as a whole. Be assured that those of us in the military will be working with our comrades in order to gain true equality, but you yourself can still take part too. Your Congress members are the legislators. Tell them what the people want: justice and equality, not only with your local state laws but with the federal laws and with the military. After all, the U.S. military is yours and you have a say in its policy. As the number of Congress members in opposition to DOMA grows, increased pressure from constituents will become much more powerful in favor of equality. DOMA is corrosive legislation and its repeal is in our hands.
Timothy J. Cichon is a Sergeant in the United States Army currently stationed in California. He joined the Army at the age of 17 in 2007 and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for 12 months. The views expressed in this article do not represent the Department of Defense nor the United States Army.