Marriage Equality: DOMA, Military Style

Demonstration at the Supreme Court 2013-03-27-6902When we talk about marriage equality in the military, there is an additional layer to be considered.  Rules, regulations, rights and responsibilities – all dependent on a little beige card.

As an ID Card holder, a spouse gets on post or base, goes to the commissary or the post library; joins the club and uses the pool.   Those are the surface rights.  The right to be at the hospital when your spouse is in ICU after the birth of the first child for both of you; the right to be able to show your emotion in the NICU as your son fights hard.  The right to take your child to the doctor on post as his other mom – not the nanny. The right to housing on post; adjustments to the housing allowance as “married”; being included in the Family Readiness Group during deployments; the day to day realities of our lives in the military community,  the lack of these is an ongoing daily discrimination.

Rep. Joe Sestak, a retired three star admiral, noted in his editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer that there are about one hundred of these benefits that are not available to same sex couples, because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   These are rights that go deeper, the rights that really matter –  and then there are those that none of us  in the military community like to talk about.

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The right to notification, the right to open the door to the casualty notification officer, the right to the flag draping the coffin.

I spoke to a military spouse who has become a standard bearer for same sex marriages, by way of a refusal from a Officers Spouse’s Club.  Ashley Broadway, a longtime military spouse of Lt. Col Heather Mack, had been with her wife from the time she was a second lieutenant, but only able to officially marry very recently.  She had applied to the Fort Bragg Officers Spouse Club, to be refused on the shaky grounds that she was not an ID holder, which was added to the online rules after the refusal was made public.  After being elected the Fort Bragg Military Spouse of the Year, the club relented and Ashley looks forward to attending meetings as an acknowledged military spouse.

When we talked, she spoke of her friend Tracy Dice Johnson, who was featured in a recent ABC news piece.  Ms. Dice Johnson, although legally married, did not learn of her wife’s death in action through the knock on the door of the casualty notification officer – her sister-in-law called her as the casualty notification officer was at the door of her wife’s parents.  She wasn’t automatically flown to go to pick up her spouse’s remains – her mother-in-law had to insist and push for her to be the escort as the liaison for the family.  Even the wedding ring she placed on her wife’s hand was only given to her to pass along to the casualty assistance officer.   This was not directed specifically at Dice Johnson.  This was not deliberate cruelty from the casualty officers. This was adherence to military regulations.

As a military spouse I cannot imagine this.  In my community, we tend to plan. We plan the funeral for our loved one every time they deploy — “What will I say when I open the door?”  Our clothes are chosen, our lists are made.  We know this as anticipatory grief; to then have this discrimination layered on top of it, would be unbearable. The constant indignities of life, married but not acknowledged, or widowed without the acknowledgment of your loss is simply unimaginable.

Images courtesy of Karen Santiano Francis

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