For Summer and Celeste, DOMA repeal means protection for their daughter

Last Thursday, gay and lesbian service members in the U.S. military celebrated the one-year anniversary of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military policy banning open service for gay and lesbian members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Among the people across the country celebrating the anniversary were Celeste and Summer, a same-sex couple currently based in Kanas, where they're living nearby Celeste's first Army duty station. In January, Celeste enlisted in Active Duty Army and started her basic training.

Summer and Celeste have been together for nearly three years; on June 15 of this year, they got engaged, in preparation for a Fall 2013 wedding. The couple has a beautiful baby girl, Ellie, who was born in January 2012, just two days before Celeste left for Army basic training.

Although they have been together for almost three years, Summer says that she and Celeste struggle to have their relationship recognized by the Army. This is largely due to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which forces the U.S. military to discriminate against same-sex couples and their families because it denies federal respect of marriages between same-sex couples. Even though Celeste can serve openly, her loving and committed relationship with Summer is not respected or honored as relationships between different-sex coupes. The couple is not eligible for a huge range of protections that different-sex married couples receive, including access to joint military housing, the opportunity to take leave to care for a spouse, Social Security survivor benefits, and equal treatment under U.S. immigration law.

DOMA unnecessarily complicates the lives of Summer, Celeste, and their child. Most pressingly, DOMA restricts the military from recognizing Celeste as Ellie's mother.

"It's hard because the Army doesn't understand our relationship and they don't really respect it," Summer said. "So when Celeste speaks about Ellie, they don't really take her seriously."

Summer explained one concrete example of the problems this causes for them. Last week, Celeste was scheduled for a small pox shot during her routine medical update. Soldiers with children are not supposed to get the shot because it could negatively impact children, but because Ellie is not recognized as Celeste's child, Summer and Celeste had to fight hard to get the small pox shot waived. Summer and Ellie are also denied Celeste's health and dental insurance coverage, since only different-sex married couples can be included on a service member's plan. 

Celeste is viewed as a single soldier, so she must maintain barracks, meaning that although she lives with Summer in a home, she must also keep her barracks clean, report for inspection of her barracks, and other requirements. "It makes our lives as a whole hectic having to manage living in two different places," Summer explained.

For now, Summer says that she has found comfort and support from the American Military Partner Association, a support and resource network for the partners or spouses of LGBT service members and veterans. The support and advice from the organization has been vital in navigating the often-difficult life of a married same-sex couple in the military. (Read more about Summer and Celeste at The American Military Partner Association website). 

Repealing DOMA would alleviate many of the burdens that married same-sex couples in the military face. Without being forced to discriminate against its soldiers, the U.S. military would be able to treat all of its families fairly and ensure essential protections for all of our brave service members.

"It would be like a huge weight was lifted off of my chest," Summer said about the potential for DOMA repeal. "Life would be so much easier. I just feel like we do everything that other military families go through, but we don't receive any help. We don't seem to have much support. And it makes me feel like an outsider."

Learn more about how DOMA hurts gay and lesbian service members and their families by checking out Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry, our campaign we launched with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in May. Or learn more about the American Military Partner Association.