What’s Next After DADT Repeal? Financial Equality for Gay Soldiers

Oct 20, 2011Jeffrey Raines

military-tank-150DADT is an important first step, but policies like DOMA mean that not all who serve their country get the same benefits.

The repeal of DADT went into effect on September 20, but that is far from the last step toward full equality for the men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces. Yes, DADT has resulted in a legally safer environment for gay soldiers who come out, but that is, sadly, the extent of its impact.

There is no clause in the repeal bill that mentions legal action or legal protection to address and prevent acts of sexual orientation discrimination and prejudice. This means that gay men and women are not only at risk of public abuse, but that they are also at risk of discrimination that would hurt them financially. There are still laws in effect like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prevent civil union partners and spouses of same-sex couples from receiving the same benefits of marriage (many of them financial) that heterosexual couples enjoy.

DOMA defines marriage for federal benefit purposes as a union between a man and woman:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

While DOMA doesn't explicitly outlaw gay marriage, it does discourage its existence by protecting states from having to recognize it. This adds hurdles for any gay couple, the biggest of which is getting state marriage benefits in a state that does not recognize its validity. Some of the benefits of marriage include joint IRS tax returns and spousal benefits and coverage from Social Security and Medicare. In states that do not recognize gay marriage, these lawfully married couples miss out on this assistance and must pay more out of pocket to cover such expenses on an individual basis. Marriage is supposed to help help family finances by mitigating certain essential life costs, not give a boost to one couple over another.

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But it hits our men and women in service in even more ways. DOMA means that even in states where gay marriage is legal, if one partner in a couple is in the military, the other same-sex civilian dependent does not receive the same benefits that a civilian dependent in a heterosexual couple would receive. These unequal benefits include not being considered an emergency contact. A spouse would be able to find out about his or her partner's death or accident, but not allowed to hear the details like immediate family would.

Same-sex military families also cannot receive the same housing allowances as families headed by heterosexual parents and they are not guaranteed that they will stay together if they are told to transfer bases. In order to actually stay together, the spouse must pay for his or her own move, whereas a heterosexual couple would receive some aid in that worst-case scenario.

If homosexual couples are not guaranteed the benefits that they deserve as members of the military, why should they risk their lives and the financial stability of their family back home? The answer is that they should not have to.

When Obama signed the repeal of DADT last December, he told the story of a WWII private who "knew that valor and sacrifice are no more limited by sexual orientation than they are by race or by gender or by religion or by creed; that what made it possible for him to survive the battlefields of Europe is the reason that we are here today." Sexual orientation has again and again proven to be neither a work obstacle nor a performance-affecting measure, and it is a step in the right direction for the United States Armed Forces to recognize this as well.

Equality is not something gained by a single action, and thus it requires more than just one repeal to attain full equality between homosexual and heterosexual couples in the military. The next step is to repeal DOMA in order to give homosexual military families the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. The justification of this repeal can be based on the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which states that "the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness." Today we live in a world where miscegenation laws are illegal, but the freedom to marry is still restrictive. That is an unacceptable, illogical, and economic fallacy.

Jeffrey Raines is a sophomore majoring in political science at American University where he is the Vice President of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network chapter and the DC-International Region's New Chapter Coordinator.

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