[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.