Friday, February 24, 2012

Why DOMA Should End

In 1996, the Congress of the United States passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and signed into law by President Clinton.  The law denied federal benefits -those normally afforded to married couples - to married homosexual couples.  It was a reaction to a decision by the Hawai'i Supreme Court in 1993 that same-sex couples could be married under the Hawai'ian constitution.  Congress's reaction was that homosexuals were waging a war against traditional heterosexual marriage and something must be done to protect the "sacred institution" of heterosexual marriage. 

Oh the irony that the twice-married House Speaker Newt Gingrich was in an affair with his soon to be third wife Callista Bisek while battling to protect the sacred institution of marriage from same-sex couples. 

Now in the 21st century, President Obama declared that the Department of Justice would not defend Section 3 of DOMA and two federal district courts have ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional.  The opinion of U.S. District Judge Jeffery White stated that heightened scrutiny should be the standard when "reviewing statutory classification based on sexual orientation."  But not everyone is convinced that DOMA is an outdated statute that should join the Jim Crow laws in the dumpster of history, as evidenced by many of the GOP presidential candidates.  I, on the other hand, find that DOMA should end because of its denial of rights to homosexual service members in same-sex marriages that are afforded to service members in heterosexual marriages.

Since there are seven states that recognize and permit same-sex marriages, it is possible that a gay or lesbian service member could be married while serving.  Two states that are the home to many service members, California and New York permit same-sex marriage, with more to come.  Maryland's legislature passed a bill permitting same-sex marriage and Illinois legislators have proposed a bill to permit same-sex marriage.  The right for homosexuals to serve in the military and their growing right to marry will have an impact not only on the same-sex spouse but will lead to challenges that may affect a command's effectiveness to carry out its mission.

In the military, married personnel are able to list their dependents (e.g. their spouse, children) on their Page 2, which permits the dependents of the service member to be eligible for benefits permitted by the Department of Defense (DoD).  Those benefits would be: a DoD ID card which gives access to military installations, access to on-base housing, access to the PX and Commissary (the department store and groceries store on military bases), access to military health care through TRICARE (DoD health care), an increase in housing allowances, and the dependent to receive SGLI benefits upon the death of the service member spouse. 

A gay or lesbian service member will not be able to list their same-sex spouse on their Page 2 because of DOMA.  Since DOMA applies to federal benefits, and DoD benefits are benefits conferred by the federal government, spouses of homosexual service members are denied those benefits.

Thanks to the brilliance of DOMA, spouses of homosexual service members would be denied those benefits afforded to the heterosexual married couples.  The effects of denying these rights range from the spouse not being able to attend functions such as promotion or retirement held on military bases to issues that arise even with heterosexual married couples when the service member deploys.  When a service member deploys, the dependents listed on the Page 2 will have access to the rights the DoD permits for dependents.  The spouse will not be able to get on base unless they are in the military or a DoD civilian employee to access those benefits.  Additionally, they will not be able to use TRICARE to assist with health care costs for use of off base health care facilities.  The strain of deployment is stressful enough for the deploying service member, but to add to that strain the concern that their spouse will not have the same benefits afforded to heterosexual spouses is unfair.  Further, and possibly the most heartless, the same-sex spouse would not be informed of the death of their spouse serving in the defense of our country. 

These stresses and other issues work to undermine unit cohesion.  From what I've seen in the navy, sailors who are distracted with issues at home sometimes struggle with their performance, which does impact command readiness.   Apart from affecting their performance, this extra stress atop of the regular challenges service members face in deployments away from their families may lead to depression.  It may not apply to all service members, but it is pointless to continue with the policies of DOMA, which amounts to shooting ourselves in the foot.

For all the "chickenhawks" who love to wear the American flag pin and wax poetic about our military, they should consider the fact that their bigoted homophobia is actually a disservice to the homosexual service members; gay and lesbian American citizens who had the courage to enlist in the military.  Their continued homophobia does a disservice to the morale of the military.  It serves to weaken, not strengthen.