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Marriage Equality in the Military

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Marriage Equality in the Military

Marriage Equality in the Military

Introduction When Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, it opened a huge doorway for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community in the military. However, it did not open the door all of the way. Even though LGBTQ people are now allowed to openly serve in the military, they still are not afforded the same benefits and recognition that heterosexual married couples have. The 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage for federal program purposes as a legal union between a man and woman; prohibits the Defense Department from extending those benefits to LGBTQ couples, even if they are married legally in certain states. Thus the definition of marriage still remains as the formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which two people become husband and wife. This definition follows right in line with DOMA. However when it is repealed, we will no longer see ‘man and woman’ or ‘husband and wife’ but the simple term ‘two people’ in regards to all walks of life. It has been a year since the repeal of DADT, and with the military moving forward with LGBTQ equality we may be approaching a time when all people have equal rights to marry whomever they please. Given the high respect our nation has for the military, I believe it makes them the perfect vehicle to further LGBTQ marriage equality. The legal standpoint of DOMA seems to be the first hurdle that needs to be jumped in order to further LGBTQ marriage equality.
Defense of Marriage Act of 1996
In order to understand the significance of DOMA within the ongoing fight for LGBTQ rights, we need to look at the legal ramifications of DOMA, and the restrictions that it places on certain benefits, and the recipient of those benefits. With DOMA in place there are over a thousand different federal benefits that legally married LGBTQ couples are not afforded. It creates extreme hardships for LGBTQ couples who cannot file joint federal income tax returns or take deductions that are given in traditional marriages, there are no spousal Social Security benefits and they can 't take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave law that protects one 's job and health insurance during emergency absences, and surviving LGBTQ spouses have no protection from estate taxes when their spouse dies (Baynes, 2012). Furthermore, the military’s LGBTQ couples are not receiving housing benefits that the federal government provides to straight couples which forces them to either pay out of pocket or bite the bullet and live in the single barracks away from each other. This negatively effects LGBTQ military members and does not give them any of the same rights and benefits that straight military members have. For example, a man and woman that are married (and one of them is in the military) are allotted a house and full benefits like money to pay their rent off base or Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). For example: two men or two women that are married by the state of New York are not able to receive any of the aforementioned benefits because the federal government does not recognize the marriage between two women or two men. There are, in fact, married LGBTQ military members that are not able to stay stationed with their significant others due to the fact that our federal government does not recognize the marriage. For straight military members, when both parties are in the military and married the government will do everything in their power to make sure that both spouses are stationed, at the least, on the same military installation. Currently, LGBTQ military members are not afforded any of these federal benefits because of the non-recognition of their marriage. Military members as a whole should be outraged that their brothers and sisters are being treated unfairly and they should want to take this issue straight to congress and stress that this country needs change. However, I have been in the military for the past 11 years, and I wonder if we are capable of helping further LGBTQ equality even though we do not make the rules and are mandated under federal law. Yet, with the federal government withholding these benefits because of an out dated law, we are forced to ask the question: what is being done to bring light to the subject of marriage equality so that our nation’s leaders can see how much of an impact this is making on our people? The answer is the Respect of Marriage Act (RMA). Being that President Obama and the military have already repealed DADT; the LGBTQ community already has their foot in the door with both the military and the federal government. Initially, President Clinton signed DOMA with the idea that keeping marriage between a man and a woman somehow “protected” the sanctity of marriage and did not believe that the LGBTQ community deserves the right to get married. However, on Tuesday, November 20, 2012, the Supreme Court will vote on 6 different cases brought before them, 4 of them requesting the repeal of DOMA. While these upcoming cases are an indication that LGBTQ rights, specifically issues of marriage equality, have gained some significant cultural relevance, I am not convinced that the legislative and judicial bodies responsible for actually changing existing laws are adequately prepared to handle such a challenge, and wonder if the “old world” thinking can be readily changed. The generational shift that has taken place seems to have had no impact on the people we charge with protecting every citizen of our great country and this is where I believe the military can take the biggest stand and show that as a multicultural and accepting force for LGBTQ rights, that there is no room for DOMA or that way of thinking. The United States was founded on principals of justice and fairness, and our military members need to step up and send the message that the LGBTQ community deserves every right that heterosexual people do and they will not stop fighting until there are no more battles to be won. In our last election on November 6, 2012, the people of Washington, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota voted on marriage equality – all the bills passed. Adding four more states that recognize same-sex marriages make nine states altogether. The next step is for the Respect of Marriage Act (RMA) to be set in place. Respect of Marriage Act Army National Guard Major Shannon McLaughlin and her wife Casey married two years ago in Massachusetts, where gay marriages are legal. They also have 10-month-old twins and while the twins are covered under Major McLaughlin’s healthcare, Casey has to pay for her own healthcare plan separately. Furthermore, should McLaughlin be deployed overseas, Casey will not be able to bring the twins to military base for medical treatment (Weiland, 2011). They have filed a suit in a federal court against DOMA. To combat this, Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Respect for Marriage Act on March 16, 2011 and in the House by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) repeals DOMA and repairs the rights of all lawfully married couples to receive the benefits of marriage under federal law. The bill also affords same-sex couples with the assurance that federal benefits and protections would be upheld in a state where such marriages are legal, even if an LGBTQ couple moves or travels to another state. Under the RMA, same-sex couples and their families would be eligible for the important 1,138 federal benefits and protections that heterosexual marriages already receive, such as: family and medical leave, Social Security, and spousal and survivors’ benefits. Unfortunately, the federal government cannot grant state level rights, which means the bill does not require states that have not yet enacted legal protections for same-sex couples to recognize a marriage ("hrc.org," 2011). This act requires the federal government to give federal benefits to all marriages, not just heterosexual marriages. Obviously this is not the end of the fight for LGBTQ couples including Major McLaughlin and her wife Casey; the next step would be to have every state mandate strict adherence for LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. I believe that RMA is going to be a huge stepping stone for LGBTQ equality and if military officials can get behind RMA there will be an overwhelming amount of supporters that would add to the success of making marriage equality in the military and the civilian world a reality. Even after the RMA passes, LGBTQ equality is still going to be an issue. In order to combat this and educate the masses, the military should make it a priority to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community to prove that our nation’s most respected citizens are not only fighting for our freedom, but also for equality. Now we will look at the changes that have been made on the federal level and how the military can take a stand in this crucial juncture of marriage equality. Take a Stand Marriage equality is a stepping stone to LGBTQ acceptance. Equality can be achieved by simply repealing the law and forcing the government to legally recognize gay marriage. This means the government is going to allow LGBTQ couples to have the same legal rights and benefits as straight people. There seems to be a trend with Civil Rights that comes up every 50 years or so. 50 years ago, it was race and gender equality, currently; it is marriage and LGBTQ equality. After centuries of segregation of races and gender, Congress approved the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act afforded everyone the right to not be unfairly treated or segregated based on your race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. When it finally went into effect, there was still a lot of segregation especially in the categories of race and sex. African American’s were still mistreated and so were women. Even the military was segregated. All African American platoons were formed and a white officer was appointed over them. Over the years segregation has become less of an issue especially with the military recently opening up their combat specialty jobs to females. RMA will afford everyone the right to not be unfairly segregated due to whom they choose to marry regardless of sexual orientation. There seems to be a trend here, and half of a century later, there is still work to be done. With marriage equality finally being looked at by the highest form of government there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and the military is the tool to pave the way. The advancement the military has made to further all equalities show how strong of an impact they have on our society. It seems that when the military takes a stand to change an equality issue, the military members as a whole respond with open arms.
Conclusion
Looking into the next few weeks, there is a chance to sway a lot of these votes for the repeal of DOMA. The United States military leaders that go before the Supreme Court and Congress on a regular basis need to understand that protecting and allowing their service members when it comes to marriage equality is in the best interest of everyone. When issues like marriage equality come to the table, something needs to be done about it to ensure the happiness and wellbeing of my brothers and sisters in the military. I believe in fighting until it is resolved. The fight needs to begin at the front lines and the military members need to get on board with this so the Supreme Court, Congress, and the House of Representatives know that we will not stand for inequality and we will not stand by and watch our brothers and sisters be unfairly treated by a law that is almost two decades old and has no place in today’s law books. The beauty about repealing DOMA is that it does not only affect military members, but it affects the entire United States. Once the federal government is in favor of allowing LGBTQ couples to legally marry and have all of the benefits a straight couple already has, the states that do not allow it currently will more than likely fall in line with federal guidelines.
Being in the Marine Corps myself, I have always put my Marines first. Regardless of their sexual orientation, race, or beliefs, they are my troops and if they are unhappy, I do my best to fix the situation. This is the attitude I expect my leaders to have in instances like this. It isn’t about whether they want to marry or not marry; it is a simple case of having a choice. Even before DADT was repealed, we already knew who was attracted to men and who was attracted to women, and it didn’t matter. DADT was only a way to keep the “traditional” marriage sacred in the eyes of someone who had a lack of education regarding the LGBTQ community and civil rights and when it was repealed, nothing changed. Unit cohesion never changed and there was no fighting or uproar from military members. This is why the military will be perfect to pave the way for ultimate equality. It was never an issue when I was in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Djibouti because we were there for one purpose: to get the job done right the first time and come home to our significant others safe and sound. I believe the way myself and other military members have welcomed the repeal of DADT shows a progressive and accepting way of thinking that will hopefully spread like wildfire all the way up to our highest forms of government to repeal DOMA. It may take a long time and it will more than likely be an uphill battle, but in my opinion, the overall outcome of marriage equality will become a reality on the federal level.

References
Baynes, T. (2012). Analysis: Gay marriage votes could sway supreme court. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/09/us-usa-court-gaymarriage-idUSBRE8A801020121109 hrc.org. (2011, November 10). Retrieved from http://www.hrc.org/laws-and-legislation/federal- legislation/respect-for-marriage-act Weiland, E. (2011, November 10). Gays in military file suit against doma. Retrieved from http://sbvoice.blog.sbc.edu/2011/11/10/gays-in-military-file-suit-against-doma/

References: Baynes, T. (2012). Analysis: Gay marriage votes could sway supreme court. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/09/us-usa-court-gaymarriage-idUSBRE8A801020121109 hrc.org. (2011, November 10). Retrieved from http://www.hrc.org/laws-and-legislation/federal- legislation/respect-for-marriage-act Weiland, E. (2011, November 10). Gays in military file suit against doma. Retrieved from http://sbvoice.blog.sbc.edu/2011/11/10/gays-in-military-file-suit-against-doma/

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