Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry highlights marriage discrimination against military families

It’s been eight months since the official repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the federal ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military. But even though gay and lesbian service members can now serve openly, they continue to face discrimination from the federal government. Because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, gay and lesbian couples in the military do not receive the same federal benefits that heterosexual couples are eligible for.

That’s why Freedom to Marry and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) have teamed up to launch a new, national persuasion campaign — Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry. Through a series of videos and other multimedia content, the campaign will illustrate how DOMA negatively impacts military families by highlighting the stories and struggles of gay and lesbian service members and their families.

The campaign launches today with the release of an online video that demonstrates just one of the sad realities that military families face.

“Many people assume that, with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ gay men and lesbians serving our country are being treated fairly and equally, but that’s not the case,” Evan Wolfson, founder and President of Freedom to Marry, said. “We ended the ban on open military service for gay and lesbian Americans, but there is still a federal ban on treating married service members as what they are: married. The so-called Defense of Marriage Act's 'gay exception' keeps the government in the business of discriminating against families, such as those of service members, and burdening employers, such as the military, who are prevented from treating their employees fairly and equally.”

The Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs guarantees a long list of federal benefits to married military couples: They can share health insurance and medical coverage, be issued military identification cards, live together on military bases, seek support from morale and welfare programs, and receive surviving spouse benefits. However, because DOMA denies federal recognition of their relationships, same-sex couples are not afforded these benefits and protections.

DOMA is at odds with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and now, gay and lesbian service members and their families are caught in the middle. After dealing with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for 17 years, same-sex couples are continuing to face discrimination because of DOMA. Until DOMA is repealed, Americans will continue to be divided into two classes.

“Last week the President described how the stories of service members and their families made a difference in his decision to support the freedom to marry," Army veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said. "Indeed, the faces and stories of military families impacted by the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act illustrate the unjust ways this law treats our nation's most courageous patriots. It's simply unconscionable that we would ask American citizens to put their lives on the line for us in war zones while treating them and their families as second-class citizens. All service members and their families provide the same service, take the same risks, and make the same sacrifices. When it comes to recognition, support, and benefits, they must all be treated equally. “ 

Freedom to Marry is excited to work with SLDN on the Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry campaign. SLDN is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that seeks to end all forms of discrimination of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Through free and direct legal assistance, SLDN tirelessly supports LGBT service members and veterans.

In October, SLDN partnered with eight gay and lesbian service members to challenge the constitutionality of DOMA. The lawsuit, McLaughlin v. Panetta, calls for equal recognition, benefits, and family support for current and former service members in the U.S. Armed Services. For more background on the case, click here.

In the coming weeks and months, Freedom to Marry and SLDN will continue to share the experiences of gay and lesbian service members facing marriage discrimination.