Fifteen years, five states, two parents and one family – that is how you would describe the life that my wife, Heather, and I have built. Heather is an Army Lieutenant Colonel stationed at Ft. Bragg. She is prepared to give her life for the country we love just as any other service member is, but the Defense of Marriage of Act prohibits any recognition of our marriage and the family we’ve built together.
Active-duty service members receive almost three-quarters of their compensation in allowances and benefits that cover everything from housing, health care and education to honoring families of the fallen. However, because DOMA requires the federal government to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, it prohibits the military from recognizing legally married couples like us because we are both women. DOMA prevents me and other same-sex spouses from accessing many of the benefits and protections that other military couples count on and enjoy.
Heather and I started dating in 1997 when we were both living in Columbus, Ga. We have been invested in each other’s lives from the beginning because we knew we would be together forever. We were – and still are – very much in love.
Shortly after we began dating, Heather was scheduled to transfer to a different duty location. I knew right away that there was no way I could be separated from her. And, from that moment, our journey began: We’ve moved seven times in 15 years to five states and South Korea. Typically, when a service member is transferred to another station, the military is able to allot additional funds to ensure the family can accompany the member. Because of DOMA, this financial assistance is not available to our family. Instead, we have had to personally finance my moves. And the economic penalties do not stop there.
Spouse Employment and Career Opportunities consultants help military spouses access educational and career opportunities. Because I am a same-sex spouse, DOMA prevents me from accessing these opportunities, just as the law prevents Heather from transferring her GI Bill education benefits to me, something other married military couples do all of the time.
Most of our relationship was spent in the dark because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I was known to others as Heather’s “sister.” We are relieved our country is making progress with ending the discriminatory laws and policies that forced us to hide our relationship.
The military in particular has made significant progress since the repeal, including former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s recent announcement that certain benefits would now extend to same-sex military spouses. It has a real impact, even though the secretary’s action was limited because of DOMA.
For example, I had been denied membership to the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses because I was a same-sex spouse and lacked a military ID. Up until that announcement, I could have only a limited military ID as my son’s “caretaker,” the same status given to nannies.
While Panetta’s action was an important step, it’s not enough for military families like ours. The last thing that Heather, or any other service member, should worry about while serving their country is whether their families will be cared for should something happen. Unfortunately, as long as DOMA stands, some military families continue to face this fear.
If something happened to Heather, the first notification wouldn’t come to me; it would go to Heather’s parents. I wouldn’t be able to fully participate in rituals and rites to celebrate her life – even though I am her wife and the mother of our two children. That sad reality is always in the back of our minds.
The Supreme Court has the opportunity to respect and protect all military families by ending DOMA. It would allow us to finally have equal status and to no longer be considered second-class citizens. It is time for all families – gay or straight – to have the same rights and protections. We’re hopeful the high court will right this wrong.
Ashley Broadway lives in Sanford
with her wife and two children.