The LGBT community is abuzz with the possibility that President Obama will repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. This is a necessary and important step towards equality for LGBT Americans and enabling our military to recruit and retain qualified personnel.
Repealing DADT, however, is only the first step—albeit the most important one—towards equality for LGBT servicemembers. Unless the federal government not only permits openly lesbian and gay servicemembers, but also recognizes their families, we are asking those servicemembers to defend our country with a fraction of the support given to non-LGBT personnel.
The military takes family support very seriously. Army companies, for example, each contain a Family Readiness Group, “an official command sponsored organization of Family Members, volunteers, and Soldiers belonging to a unit, that together provide an avenue of support and assistance. This network of communication between Family Members, volunteers, the chain of command, and community resources, is for Soldier and Family readiness.” . . .
. . . Soberingly, when the worst happens, only spouses, blood relatives, or adoptive relatives can handle the disposition of remains for a deceased servicemember.
With the repeal of DADT, it is reasonable to assume more lesbian and gay servicemembers will choose to stay in the service longer. They would thus be more likely to have a spouse and/or children at some point in their military careers, making the recognition of their relationships a growing issue.
The wording of final legislation to repeal DADT is still up in the air, but the version currently in the House, H.R. 1246, is clear, however, that benefits for families of lesbian and gay servicemembers are not up for consideration: “Nothing in this Act . . . shall be construed to require the furnishing of dependent benefits in violation of . . . the `Defense of Marriage Act.’”
Hillary Clinton has already agreed to provide same-sex partners of State Department employees with the same benefits and protections as opposite-sex spouses. President Obama has said he will work to repeal DOMA, but has not yet set a timetable.
Let me stress, therefore : We need to stay focused on repealing DADT and not try to work in broader family rights for lesbian and gay servicemembers right now. As much as it hurts to read the DOMA clause in the anti-DADT legislation, it seems a prudent move at this point in order for the measure to have any chance of success.
At the same time, we should be mindful that family rights for military personnel will be an upcoming challenge—and perhaps an opportunity. The repeal of DADT could highlight the need to enact federal relationship-recognition and adoption rights for every American, if only to ensure that all servicemembers have equal benefits for their families.
To read Dana's full column, visit 365Gay.com online . . .