Battleland

Same-Sex Marriage: Army’s Not Budging

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Courtesy of Ashley Broadway

Ashley Broadway, left, and Army Lieut. Colonel Heather Mack, her spouse and partner of 15 years.

Last week, the Marines made it clear that its spouses’ clubs could not discriminate against same-sex couples.

Wednesday, the Army said: not so fast.

As things stand now, the Army, backed by the Pentagon, is saying it will not bar recognition of spouses’ clubs that prohibit same-sex couples from membership.

This all began awhile back at Fort Bragg, N.C., after the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses denied Ashley Broadway membership, even though she is married to Army Lieutenant Colonel Heather Mack. Broadway says she is “extremely disappointed” by the decision. “With this move, the Defense Department and the Pentagon have opened the door to discrimination of any soldier, and these soldiers’ families, for any reason,” she says. “The government of the greatest nation in the world should not be entertaining or tolerating this, and should not allow exclusionary groups to operate on any military installation.”

The Marines, sniffing change in the air, issued orders last week saying that such discrimination against same-sex couples would lead the corps to deny such clubs any support from the corps. “We would interpret a spouse’s club’s decision to exclude a same-sex spouse as sexual discrimination,” the corps’ top lawyer wrote.

(MORE: U.S. Marine Makes First Ever Same-Sex Marriage Proposal in the White House)

The Army, typically, sees it just the opposite. “The Association of the Bragg Officers’ Spouses, a private organization, is not in violation of current Department of Defense instructions, directives, and laws,” says Ben Abel, a Fort Bragg spokesman.

When Abel is asked to square the Army decision with the Marine’s, he says only that “we are responsible for the welfare of soldiers and their families at Fort Bragg.”

The corps interprets Marine guidance as saying that same-sex couples must be recognized by such clubs if such clubs are to continue to receive corps’ benefits (such as holding meetings on corps’ installations). The corps’ lawyer says the language bars “unlawful discrimination,” which means the corps “would interpret” that language to bar discrimination against same-sex couples.

Here’s the Pentagon’s 2008 guidance the Arny is relying on, which the service says dictates just the reverse:

No person because of race, color, creed, sex, age, disability, or national origin shall be unlawfully denied membership, unlawfully excluded from participation, or otherwise subjected to unlawful discrimination by any non-Federal entity or other private organization covered by this Instruction.

It too has that all-important “otherwise” caveat in there. But the Army says that’s not broad enough to ban spouses’ clubs from barring same-sex couples. The Pentagon, which championed the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays serving openly in the military, concurs.

(MORE: Military Same-Sex Partner Benefits: “Separate But Not Equal”)

There’s no mention in the guidelines of sexual orientation, which isn’t surprising – they were written three years before the Pentagon lifted its gay ban. Defense officials say they simply are complying with the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which says marriage can only be between a woman and a man, and has let the Pentagon deny benefits to same-sex spouses that traditional spouses get.

This all boils down to three things:

– The Marines were the service most opposed to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But once they realized it was going to change, they saluted, got out in front of it, and have pushed hard to turn the same-sex issue into a non-issue in its ranks. They were the more agile – Marines would prefer “expeditionary” – force in dealing with a change that many thought would be significant, but really hasn’t been.

– The Army is the most traditional of the military services, and the one that plods, in ways both good and bad. If it can find a regulation justifying the status quo, it will embrace it tightly. This should come as no surprise: this is how the Army fights, this is how it wages peace, and this is how it lives.

– The key unknown is how prospective defense secretary Chuck Hagel will deal with the matter. He upset gay activists by opposing a gay ambassador a decade ago, and has since apologized. “I fully support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and value the service of all those who fight for our country,” Hagel recently wrote Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”

The contrast between the Army and Marines could dissolve overnight if a Defense Secretary Hagel issued orders detailing how all the services should deal with the matter.

Look for it to melt, like winter ice, before summer.

UPDATE: The spouses’ club said it “would like to offer Ms. Broadway a special Guest Membership” on Thursday. “It’s fantastic that they have finally contacted Ashley after a month of silence, but if the ABOS mission is to support all military families, why are they continuing to deny same-sex military spouses full membership?” responded Stephen L. Peters II, president of the American Military Partner Association. “Offering `guest membership’ to Ashley is like offering her `second-class membership status.’  There is no valid reason why she should not be offered full membership as outlined in the organization’s bylaws.”

MORE: Marines Publish a Book On The End of `Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

15 comments
PANATAG
PANATAG

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

BALAGTAS BULACAN

LAURA CHURCH

No moves to redeploy patrol vessels to Panatag Shoal yet — DFA chiefDecember 3, 2012 8:48pm

TedPeters
TedPeters

It shall be impossible to ever satisfy those who suffer from gender identity conflicts as these merely reflect repressed internal anxieties that cannot be adequately soothed by any degree of external symbolic compensation.   

CrispinBurke
CrispinBurke

I'm sorry, I missed a key word in this...one which explains it all.  It's the "Association of Bragg Officers' Spouses".  Fort Bragg officers' spouses must have actually created their own club where they don't have to associate with enlisted spouses.

Gays and lesbians: Do you really WANT to fight for the right to be so pathetic you have to wear your spouse's rank?

MichaelBedwell
MichaelBedwell

GROAN! I've followed Mr. Thompson's articles about gays in the military for some time. He apparently MEANS well, but that and $3 will get you a cup of coffee. First, he's not alone in turning the molehill the Marines recently constructed into a mountain, but no one has any excuse for equating letting gay military spouses access NON-military clubs with ending their REFUSAL, no less than any other branch, to treating married gay Marine couples in every way the law would allow as they do heterosexual couples. Have they issued the spouses of gay and lesbian Marines military IDs? Are they letting married gay Marines and their spouses live in military family housing? Are they now including gay Marines under the Military Equal Opportunity Program? Unless someone can provide detailed documentation to the contrary, his assertion that the Marines "have pushed hard to turn the same-sex issue into a non-issue in its ranks" is fantasy.

destor23
destor23

So, the Army represent homophobic bigots.  There.  Simply said.  If they don't want to be bigots, they can require that outside organizations that they support treat married couples equally.  That's all there is to it.  There's no nuance.  The Army is wrong and, worse, out of step with the will of American society.

Serenity
Serenity

>"the greatest nation in the world"

It's very clear that this isn't the case

DHMazur
DHMazur

Complying with law often involves a range of options.

Army and DOD position on this issue:  What is the least support I can provide to military families and still comply with the law?  In contrast, the Marine Corps position:  What is the most support I can provide to military families and still comply with the law?

The difference is illuminating.  The Army is behaving as though emotional support for military families is a limited resource that must be hoarded by some and denied to others.  The Marines believe there is enough family support to go around for all who need it.

Former Air Force officer and author of A More Perfect Military: How the Constitution Can Make Our Military Stronger


CrispinBurke
CrispinBurke

What puzzles me is the existence of a seperate spouses' organization in addition to the official unit Family Readiness Groups.  Is the "Fort Bragg Spouses' Club" a group of people who just can't get enough FRG?

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

@TedPeters

I wonder if you would feel differently if you had a gay child. It shall be impossible for narrow-minded individuals who suffer from bigotry to adequately understand the issue until they live it.

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

@MichaelBedwell

The Marines do not forbid the formation of groups that exclude based upon sexual-orientation. That would be unconstitutional, restricting the right to free association. Many groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, do just that. What they are (rightly) doing is denying any such group any preferential treatment or use of Marine (Federal) facilities.

dean0
dean0

@Serenity probably not for much longer if the liberals have their way, we will soon be no better off than any of the myriad of third-world countries.  One problem there is who will all these other third-world countries turn to for aid when in dire straits.