As President Barack Obama said at Saturday's Human Rights Campaign dinner, there is still more work to do to build equal rights for gays serving in the military, even after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
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 an environment that is legally safer to come out in, 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. The repeal of DADT leaves gay men and women to serve openly, but it inadvertently leaves them open to experiencing public abuse. Because men and women do not have to hide from DADT, homophobia in the military no longer has to hide in the shadows either.
Congress cannot afford to wait around for the ACLU to take cases of homophobic discrimination to court. They must introduce bills to ensure equal benefits for the families of all sexual orientations as well as a bill to explicitly prohibit acts that put these patriotic men and women at a disadvantage while on duty.
Though a leap forward for Congress, DADT didn’t go far enough. Because their decision to make equality in the armed forces is not a comprehensive solution, they have left this problem to be dealt with again at a later date. Whether out of political infeasibility or just unwillingness to see full equality, Congress has decided to only get their feet wet.
Because there are still laws in effect like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prevent civil union partners and spouses of same-sex couples from receiving the same benefits of marriage that heterosexual couples enjoy, there is much concern for the gay servicemen and women who have families.
DOMA defines marriage for federal benefit purposes as a union between a man and woman. This means that even in states where gay marriage is legal, in couples where one of the partners is in the military, a same-sex civilian dependent does not receive the same benefits that a civilian dependent in a heterosexual couple would receive.
Same-sex families cannot receive the same housing allowances as families headed by heterosexual couples and they are not guaranteed that they will stay together if they are told to transfer bases. Heterosexual military couples are able to stay together and can avoid being transferred to two different regions, but homosexual spouses do not have a say in such instances.
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 correct answer is that they should not have to. Congress cannot afford to continue sitting idly on issues of equality. It has to pass bills like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and repeal harmful ones like DOMA to make this nation continue to be the land of free.
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. In this instance, the necessary next step is to give the homosexual military families the benefits their heterosexual counterparts have.
Photo Credit: Neon Tommy