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U.S. Military Continues Discrimination
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 01/20/13
Last updated on: 01/20/13
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Major Shannon McLaughlin (left) and her wife discuss the problem of discrimination on MSNBC.

Despite the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which became official in September 2011, the U.S. military continues to discriminate against gay and lesbian servicemembers. Rules and regulations continue to bar gay and lesbian servicemembers from receiving privileges and benefits routinely accorded heterosexual servicemembers. The President should order an immediate end to discrimination in the military.

In an article published on January 20, 2012 in the New York Times, Rachel L. Swarns highlights a number of injustices faced by gay and lesbian servicemembers and their spouses, ranging from being barred from military retreats designed to help soldiers and their spouses cope with the pressures of deployments and relocations to the denial of spousal medical, housing, and travel benefits. The spouses of gay and lesbian servicemembers are also barred from receiving military identification cards, which provide access to many community activities and services on base, including movie theaters, day care centers, gyms, and commissaries.

Although the military claims that some of these benefits cannot be granted because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is currently being challenged in several lawsuits, including one before the Supreme Court of the United States, other restrictions seem arbitrary and capricious.

It is hard to see how DOMA would prevent the attendance of a same-sex married couple at a counseling retreat, as experienced by First Lt. Nakisha Hardy and her wife LaTiya Hardy; or how it can be construed to bar Ashley Broadway, the wife of Lt. Col. Heather Mack, from membership in the Ft. Bragg Spouses Association; or why it should require Bobby McDaniel, the husband of a lieutenant colonel stationed in Central America, to be denied a diplomatic visa to visit him, a privilege typically granted to heterosexual spouses.

In fact, since many of the benefits denied spouses of gay and lesbian servicemembers--including family housing, access to legal assistance, commissaries, and military identification cards--are done so on the basis of regulations rather than laws, DOMA may have no application to them at all.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, said that Defense officials are considering whether to revise those regulations. "The Department of Defense is conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners."

Considering how long the military took to study all the implications of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell before finally doing so, it strikes me as dereliction of duty that the review of those regulations was not undertaken in 2010 and 2011.

The unequal treatment of gay and lesbian servicemembers causes financial hardship. In addition, it also takes a psychic toll on those who experience discrimination.

For example, Lt. Hardy said of her rejection from the spousal retreat, "I felt hurt, humiliated. These were people I had been deployed with. And they were telling me I can go to fight the war on terrorism with them, but I can't attend a seminar with them to keep my marriage healthy."

The promise of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was that gay and lesbian servicemembers would be able to participate openly and equally in the military.

To ensure that the promise becomes a reality, the President, who is also Commander-in-Chief, should issue a non-discrimination order demanding that members of the military be treated equally.

The issue of equal benefits and privileges also needs to be raised very pointedly in the confirmation hearings of former Senator Chuch Hagel, who has been nominated by President Obama to the position of Secretary of Defense and whose history of anti-gay votes and rhetoric continues to cause concern about his fitness for the job.

In the video below, from March 2012, Major Shannon McLaughlin and her wife discuss the problem of discrimination in the military with MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts.

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