Families Matter in Our Military. All Families

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Army veteran Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, left, a U.S. Military Academy graduate, marries Penelope Dara Gnesin at West Point's Cadet Chapel on Dec. 1, 2012

West Point, the country’s oldest continuously operated military post and home to the eldest of all American military academies, held two weddings last week.

Every aspect of these weddings spoke to tradition. Each was held in a cadet chapel. Finely dressed brides graced the aisles while attendees stood in rapt attention. Both culminated in the traditional saber arch, which is the only fitting way to welcome a new spouse into the Army.

Yet one thing was different from the countless weddings I watched after my graduation there 11 years ago. For the first time since the Academy’s founding in 1802, those being wed were of the same sex, and their weddings were legal. For the alumni present, we saw our intensely traditional, Rockbound Highland Home respond a way some might expect. They celebrated it, for that’s the natural response when two people honor their conviction to each other with matrimony.

The irony of this display of apparent equality is that nowhere are the deleterious effects of the Defense of Marriage Act felt more acutely than in our nation’s military. For this reason, service members and veterans should be watching very closely as the Supreme Court proceeds to hear marriage-equality cases from across the U.S., having just agreed to review a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (as well as a challenge to California’s Proposition 8) on Friday.

Family Values

Families matter immensely to our military. As an infantry commander of nearly 200 troops, the only thing I spent more time on than supporting families was the training of soldiers.

Why was this? Simple. What we ask of our soldiers is tough stuff, but the stronger and more complete the team supporting them, the better they will do their jobs and the more likely all of us will get back alive. Strong families make soldiers more resilient and effective than they would otherwise be. When we are at war and ask ourselves “why we fight,” we simply need look no further than our spouses and children back home to see what we are protecting.

The military recognizes this value. Married soldiers, who make up more than half of the all-volunteer force, receive greater pay and benefits based upon family size. This simply makes good practical sense: married troops stay in longer, keeping more seasoned troops in the force, resulting in an unparalleled level of training and experience that heightens unit quality and soldier safety. Further, it is a cost-saving measure, reducing the number of new recruits requiring costly initial entry training that would be needed if retention were lower.

Double Standards

The couples legally married at West Point will find they get few of the benefits granted to every other military couple. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, only opposite-sex marriages may be recognized by our military. The tradition of reciprocity on state-led issues suddenly does not apply. So if you are gay, the federal government will recognize your state-issued birth certificate, driver’s license and divorce decree. But your marriage license? Sorry. No such luck.

In the military, where double standards are an anathema, the disparity between how gay and straight couples are treated could not be more stark. Same-sex marriages are legal in many states; “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is history (to no ill effect); our Department of Defense publicly supports the equality, dignity and respect of all troops. Yet military leaders are barred from treating their troops equally. No wonder so many of my West Point classmates — military leaders — find this law abhorrent.

So what are the differences?

— A gay or lesbian couple can get hundreds of dollars less per month because of differences in benefits, but they pay higher taxes because they must each file as “single.”

— Need to visit the base to go to the hospital, drop kids at day care, buy food or see a counselor because your spouse has been deployed for a year? Sorry, that all requires access that the gay spouse does not have, because he or she cannot get a military ID card.

— Have a medical emergency? The gay spouse goes to a civilian provider and pays out of pocket, while the straight spouse simply goes to the military hospital and everything is covered.

— Moving? Gay couples can’t ship as much to their next duty station and have to pay the airplane ticket of the civilian spouse.

— If you’re dual military and gay, you could be sent to duty stations thousands of miles apart, even if you have kids.

— Foreign national spouses, met overseas, can’t even get into the country since no visa exists for them.

— And what if the deployed soldier dies or comes down with a terminal illness? The straight spouse gets all survivor benefits such as back pay and pensions. The gay spouse? Nothing.

Honor Their Service

In their Joining Forces campaign, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden have rightly repeated “Families serve too.” All families serve, and they all sacrifice — equally. But gay families will end up with less money, a smaller house, fewer possessions, less access to services, less access to unit events, more separation if both are in the military, less support if killed in action and second-class status. The fact that these families serve at all is a testament to the honor and dedication of the families of our armed forces.

At our most historic, tradition-bound institutions, gay marriages are happening, they are legal, and they are accepted. The loving support of these families increases our troops’ resilience and improves our national defense. In a military that despises double standards, and in a country that despises injustice, it’s time for the Supreme Court to affirm what history will show to be right: that marriage is sacred not just for a select few but for all loving adults to experience and treasure.

Jonathan Hopkins is a former U.S. Army captain who was honorably discharged under “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in August 2010. Mr. Hopkins graduated fourth in his class at West Point. He was deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan, earning three Bronze Stars, including one for valor. He is currently a fellow with the Truman National Security Project and serves on the board of OutServe-SLDN.

17 comments
Thatcher
Thatcher

There is one God and one truth.  Find it and abide by it to be happier.  Wickedness never was happiness.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

Why do people quote from the Bible as it is a translated story book ?

luvdomus
luvdomus

Americans are a diverse people who are not dominated by any one sect's version of God./

Thatcher
Thatcher

Gay marriage = wrong.  God says so.  Sorry.

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

Ephesians 5:14.......14 Therefore He says:....“Awake, you who sleep,Arise from the dead,And Christ will give you light.”

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

The whole concept of the government telling people whom they can marry is obscene.

Of course it is a violation of human rights (and unconstitutional) for any government to decide whom we can love and whom we decide to live with, and that includes the (nearly meaningless) licensing of it. Same goes for our fellow citizens. Many people live together w/o any license and some believe that any licensing of the relationship would in fact be a detriment to the relationship. 

The purpose of the Constitution was to establish a government which would safeguard our rights, and not to define and remove them -- to "promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@luvdomus Not only diverse, but each one of us is unique and special, and not to be told what we can do (except not affecting others' rights). God?

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

@Thatcher Then why does God bring gay/lesbian people into the world ?

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@Thatcher I just spoke with God and she said it was okay with her. What did she say to you?

JohnMyroro
JohnMyroro

@Thatcher

My God doesn't say so. Sorry.

gre
gre

@PlumbLine :"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ." - Galatians 3:28

Thatcher
Thatcher

He gives us weaknesses so that we can be humble and he will make us strong if we call on him and apply ourselves. 

gre
gre

@Thatcher  That is the most vile, cruel and sick thing I have ever heard. So you mean all of these gay teens being bullied for years and later committing suicide is all because your god supposedly wants to "make then strong"? I have never heard anything more twisted. I guess in your faith world, being born gay is a cruel joke that your God deliberately inflicts on people to selfishly honor himself. And he assigns people like your as his little nannys while you raise your kids to be little torturers.

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