The Importance of the Military in the Struggle for Equality and Another “Duh” Moment

“If anything this should be a wake-up call to our President and to Congress to act in like, to go even further. ….our goal of Full Federal Equality”

By Jennifer McGuire, September 05, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 11.29.57 AMIt was announced yesterday that spouses of Lesbian and Gay veterans will be eligible for benefits.  In the recent stream of political, legislative and judicial victories, this may seem just another notch, and it is.  But the importance of this should not be understated.  In many ways, the Military is leading the way in full Federal LGBTQ equality.  Yet with each small step, it seems we are asked to justify and explain and re-explain why this is important, we are asked to thank and re-thank “whomever” for treating us like we are people, for “giving” us the same rights and benefits as everyone else.

From a personal standpoint, yes, I am thrilled.  My partner of 9 yrs is a veteran, served over 13 years in the USN.  We lived for over 7 yrs under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell… 7 long years of gross indignities and heartbreak: separations, unfair duty assignments, economic injustice that heterosexual couples never had to think about.  The turmoil and shame of hiding and lying; the hopelessness of not being able to say, “I love you” except in code.

The moment DADT was repealed, we announced our engagement.  Our wedding will be at the end of October.  Once we are married, we will join the thousands of other veteran families able to get the benefits our service members were promised.  Yes, I am thrilled.  I will be eligible for health benefits and a host of other services previously unavailable to me.   It feels like a sort of vindication for the years of injustice we survived.

Yet, for me, these victories seem to be somewhat bittersweet.  A part of me just wants to scream, “Duh!”  We are giving thanks for getting the same benefits, rights, considerations as everyone else.  We are asked to give commentary on how this will affect our lives… well, ya, it affects us, just like it affects straight couples.  We now get the same things, so how does it affect us?  The same way it affects them, no better, nor worse.  Am I being ungrateful that a part of me is getting a little resentful for having to explain that over and over again?

Yet, the military and veteran administration is doing more for LGBTQ equality than we may realize.  The Department of Defense is the world’s largest employer, with over 3.2 million active duty, reservist and civilian employees.   That number does not include the millions of contractors and sub-contractors.  In addition, it is estimated that there are over 21.8 million living veterans (2010 Census).  This means that more people are directly and indirectly affected by this change of policy than any other single group, to date.

The military (including veteran services) is basically, writing and enacting ENDA.  They are showing the country, and the world, that equal access to housing is possible.  They are proving to the world that Marriage Equality benefits everyone.  They are proving to the rest of the country, and the world, that LGBTQ inclusion, that full equality is a positive change, one that can be done with little to no backlash, little to no cost, and that the benefits are incalculable.  The military is making LGBTQ equality “normal.”

To their credit, they have gone above & beyond the recent DOMA rulings, affording benefits to married couples regardless of state marriage laws.  To their credit, they are enacting policies more widespread than even some of our most liberal states.  To their detriment, and our continuing struggle is Transgender inclusion.  Yet, even on this front, the military is steps ahead (baby steps though they may be).  I am NOT excusing this obvious, unfair and grievous exclusion of people.  And while we celebrate the victories, I hope all of us realize we are breaking a long military tradition – we are leaving our Transgendered comrades behind, and that is unacceptable.

I do applaud the military’s efforts for inclusion. I do understand and appreciate the limb they are traversing.  I also see the many benefits to our goal of Full Federal Equality – the lawsuits that can, and I am sure will be, argued for LGBTQ recognition in other forms.  I understand and appreciate that since the military, arguably one of the most traditional, and in many ways, most conservative employers and institutions in our country, is enacting these changes that few, if any, other businesses or institutions can claim that it can’t be done.  And yes, I do understand and appreciate that thousands of veteran families will FINALLY be recognized for what they are – families!

Does this new policy negate the harms committed?  In a small way, it may; I am not sure yet.  I still remember the countless times Joan would come home from deployment and I would watch the happy family reunions on the local news knowing she had to hitch a ride with someone to meet me in a parking lot because I wasn’t allowed on base.  I still remember the numerous holidays Joan had duty because she didn’t have a “family.”  I still remember our transfer across the country when we found out her command was being transferred out of the country and I wouldn’t be able to go with her.  I still remember the months of trying to pay the mortgage on our home, struggling with the bills while we were denied housing allowances.  I remember the days and nights worried sick as escalation levels were raised and I couldn’t even tell her, “I love you” the few times we were able to speak.

If anything this should be a wake-up call to our President and to Congress to act in like, to go even further.  Pass ENDA, NOW!  Enact fair housing legislation.  Enact fair immigration policies.  Enforce this kind of inclusion in all aspects of our government.    If anything, this should be a wake-up call to every state to act in like, to ensure safe schools, to pass marriage equality.  If anything, this should be a wake-up call to every business and corporation to provide equal benefits, to promote diversity in the workplace.  And most importantly, leave no one behind – include Transgendered persons in these laws and policies.

So, yes, thank you.  Thank you for acknowledging that Joan’s military service was as important as anyone else’s.  Thank you for acknowledging that the sacrifices we made as a couple, as a family, were as legitimate as everyone else’s.  Thank you for acknowledging we exist .

Article and Photo: Copyright, Jennifer McGuire.©


Publisher’s Note: And thank you to Jennifer McGuire for this important essay and for making a huge difference in the world of so many, her activism and tackling the town of Porterville, despite its anti-gay tyranny.

Note:  The Obama administration has cleared the way for the spouses of gay veterans to receive military benefits, with the Justice Department declaring it will no longer enforce a provision of the law that states only heterosexual married couples are eligible. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a Wednesday letter to congressional leaders that the Justice Department had determined the Supreme Court’s rationale in a decision overturning part of the Defense of Marriage Act should also apply to Title 38, the part of the U.S. code that governs veterans’ benefits. Title 38 currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman, meaning that only heterosexual spouses receive the benefits, which include health care, disability and survival benefits and burials in national cemeteries.

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