Why DOMA needs to go… Now.

2nd Annual Knights Out and USMC Spectrum Dinner[Update: a version of this letter was published in the Marine Corps Times, 15 April 2013.]

Serving my country as a United States Marine has been and continues to be the greatest privilege and honor of my life. In just a few short months my commitment to defending our nation will take me to my next duty station in Okinawa, Japan. I have a lot to do between now and then, not the least of which is graduating from Expeditionary Warfare School at Marine Corps University, but no doubt my personal priority is getting married to the love of my life, Ben.

Earlier this year I submitted a research paper for school highlighting the significant legal hurdles gay and lesbian service members still face in the post-“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) military. The problem: gay and lesbian service members who are getting married in the nine states and DC where it’s legal are still unable to receive the same federal benefits as their straight counterparts.

To my great surprise, the Department of Defense recently announced gay and lesbian military families will soon be eligible for some significant benefits, like military identification cards, survivor benefits, casualty notifications, and access to some on-base amenities.  This is huge.

The military is doing its part: in announcing the extension of additional benefits, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta proclaimed: “Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation.” His successor, current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, has reaffirmed this.

Unfortunately, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains an obstacle to truly ensuring all military families enjoy full equality. It is discriminatory and cruel.

As long as DOMA remains in effect, legally married same-sex couples will be denied crucial benefits that most other military families enjoy. These include access to healthcare and on-base housing or housing allowances, as well as social security and veterans’ benefits. All we want is to be treated equally and fairly under the law.

Put simply, DOMA means that when Ben and I get married in May I will not be able to list him as my spouse. He won’t be eligible as a dependent on my TRICARE health insurance, we won’t have access to on-base housing, and he won’t be considered my next of kin. Because the federal government won’t recognize Ben as my legal spouse, we won’t even receive an adequate housing allowance for us to live off-base instead.

In fact, when we pack up our home to move to Japan, Ben’s things won’t be included and his plane ticket won’t be paid for. As far as the federal government is concerned, he won’t be there at all. It is incredibly painful to be so blatantly marginalized by the government of the nation for which we’re both sacrificing so much.

As long as DOMA is on the books, Ben and I – along with tens of thousands of other legally married couples – won’t enjoy the fundamental freedoms and protections under the law that are extended to every other married couple. That’s why the arguments before the Supreme Court are so important. It’s simply a matter of ensuring that all married couples have the same opportunities, and that no one ever faces undue financial or emotional burdens simply because they’ve built a life with the person they love.

The nation agrees that DOMA is antiquated: 75 percent of Americans say the ability to marry the person you love is a Constitutional right. And just last year, voters in three states—including Washington, where we will be married—approved marriage equality for same-sex couples at the ballot box.

The nation is ready for marriage equality and military families deserve it.

In just a few months, I’ll be leaving my home here and heading to Japan with my new family. We’re making this move because it’s my duty and it embodies the commitment Ben and I have made to our country. I only hope that the nation I love and serve will grant me and my marriage the same dignity, rights and respect that it bestows upon all married couples.

Author: Matthew

U.S. Marine Corps officer living in North Carolina. The views expressed here are my own, and are in no way intended to represent the United States Marine Corps, Department of Defense or any of its components.

2 thoughts on “Why DOMA needs to go… Now.”

  1. This topic has always been a huge issue ever since DADT was initiated and then repealed. I too agree that DADT being repealed was huge. I can’t count how many “classes” and “briefs” I went through when that was taken away. More than I care to, but hell, what’s the Corps if it isn’t one safety brief followed by an annual class check in the box?!

    I am frankly a very straight Marine. I love my girlfriend more than I love my xbox, but who am I to be said by the government that because I like women, I get to be happy and gay couples don’t? I am no better than a man or a woman who likes the same sex, so why should I be entitled to more than couples who don’t like the opposite sex? My first drill (ha ha ha I am a reservist, let’s move on) I knew no one. I was a boot Private with no friends, the highest of the tight haircut, no chevrons, and I still was wearing skivi shirts issued to me in boot camp. Suffice to say, I was lost. After being locked on by three Corporals, and a Sergeant for not issuing the greeting of the day (we were in green camis, rank is hard to see in the dark) I was thinking “maybe becoming a grunt in the Corps was a mistake”. I didn’t get that “Band of Brothers” feeling my recruiter promised me. Throughout the day I was yelled at, scorned, made fun of and locked on, but during one class (..believe it was a SAW class that led into a 240B class..) I was listening and a Marine Lcpl type approached me and introduced himself. I will make a long story short here but that Marine and I became good friends, and a few years ago before he got out he came out to me. He respected the fact that his preferences and mine were different and just wanted me to know because we were friends. It was widely suspected that he was gay while he was in, but until DADT was repealed he legally couldn’t say anything unless he was talking to a chaplain. I felt honored and glad for him that he was able to entrust me with something like that. We still are close to this day even after he got out and we live in different parts of the state.

    The point of my comment is that not everyone in the Corps is so blind to what is going on. People assume because you are in the military that you must be a cookie cut mold of hardness and perfection but the fact of the matter is, everyone is different. We might all have the same type of haircut (..I am an NCO now, so my high and tight is now a salty low reg..) wear the same uniform and march all the same, but we are individuals that have individual desires and needs. Until this country can embrace everyone for who they are, we will always be a house divided. I love this nation and don’t always agree with what goes on here, but when something of yours is broken you don’t just throw it away, you fix it, and if you can’t fix it, you take it to someone who can.

    Good luck in your travels sir and I wish you and your husband the best of luck and happiness.

    Cpl Stubbs

  2. God bless you Cpl Stubbs for your service and moral support of all Americans gay, bisexual, transsexual and straight. Forgive my not knowing your rank Mr. Phelps. DOMA is immoral and unconstitutional. I pray that it will be overturned. May your marriage was accepted and lifelong.Take care.

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