Officers’ Wives Club Excludes Lesbian Army Wife
Preventing Other Military Spouses from Discrimination
Broadway’s situation is the latest case of what can be perceived as military-sanctioned discrimination that continues in a post-DADT world. It will probably not be the last.
Stokes pointed to the situation that surrounds lesbian National Guardsman Charlie Morgan as an example.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charlie Morgan, a 17-year full-time member of the New Hampshire Army National Guard, is fighting Stage IV breast cancer. She fears that if she dies, the Defense of Marriage Act will prevent survivor benefits from being granted to her wife Karen Morgan.
DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even in states where they are legal. This deprives those in same-sex marriages the same military housing, medical, education and other benefits provided to their straight counterparts.
The 47-year-old Charlie Morgan married her partner Karen in New Hampshire this October, a decade after they entered into a civil union in Vermont. The two women have a 4-year-old daughter, Casey Elena, who is eligible for health care and other privileges, but Morgan’s wife is not.
Fearing that her family will not be able to support itself should she die, Morgan sent out multiple requests to speak with Speaker of the House John Boehner to ask him to drop his plans to defend DOMA in court. Her requests to meet Boehner and share her story were repeatedly rebuffed, until the Huffington Post took up the case, when the Speaker’s office relented.
In a letter to Boehner dated Dec. 23, 2012, Charlie Morgan wrote, "Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Active Guard, I laid my life on the line for my country, and now I need my country to protect and care for my family. My wife and daughter face an uncertain future, unable to receive the same family support services as our counterparts who render the same service, take the same risks and make the same sacrifices."
Stokes said that because of DOMA, there was a limit to what the Pentagon could do. Still, other amenities were within their limit to grant, he noted, among them access to the base, day care, commissary and PX privileges, housing accommodations, and more. A list of the full benefits is available on OutServe-SLDN’s website.
Instead, when Charlie, Karen and Casey recently went to the commissary to shop, Karen wasn’t allowed to enter. Stokes said that their daughter, Casey, asked, "’Why can’t Mommy Karen come in to buy groceries?’ While it’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, it is an example of the day-to-day indignities they suffer."
"They can take action right now to deal with the day-to-day injustices these families are being put through," said Stokes. "I am confounded at why they haven’t chosen to do this yet.
Outdated Policies Leave Patchwork of Rules in Place
Stokes is among those who feel as though the Pentagon did not do enough after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in September 2011 to ensure equality. The result is a patchwork of rules that prevent some spouses from shopping at the base commissary while others can, and leaves them at the whim of individuals.
"As this case relates to larger issues, for us at OutServe, it really shines a light on the fact that the Pentagon has not taken appropriate action to make military commanders aware of what they can or cannot do as relates to same-sex military couples," said Stokes.
His organization has sent many letters and repeatedly reached out to the Pentagon over the last year to apprise them of 18 individual rules that they could amend right now, while DOMA is still in review. These include providing access to things like life insurance, appointment of a designated caregiver, retirement annuity, housing for families with children, moving expenses, commissary and exchange privileges and more.
The Pentagon said it is reviewing the issue of benefits available to same-sex couples, which could include offering ID cards to same-sex spouses. Pentagon spokesman Nate Christensen recently told BuzzFeed, "The Department is conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners. The benefits are being examined from a policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility perspective."
Gay advocates continue to criticize the Pentagon’s delay in acting. They note that they have been reviewing the issue of benefits since September 2011.
"The time is long past for the Pentagon to take action so we can have consistency across the board," said Stokes. "The military prides in treating their spouses the same throughout the country, and DOMA is no excuse."
Broadway’s situation, however, is yet another example of what is sure to be a steady stream of similar discrimination cases that will arise as the Pentagon continues to drag its feet on establishing concrete policies for the treatment of same-sex military spouses and their families.
"Because of the outdated Department of Defense regulations, this is all really decided on a case-by-case basis," said Lamoly. "However, many military leaders are unaware that legally married same-sex couples face the challenges seen in this particular situation. Bringing these issues to the base commands and allowing for other groups to understand these challenges that same-sex couples face in the military allows for these groups to come forward and do what they can to support military families of all kinds.
"If Ashley is allowed into the spouses’ association, it does not require all others to allow admittance, but it does set the example for other groups," Lamoly added.
AMPA has created a petition for those who want to show their support for Broadway’s struggle.