Happy Veterans Day: A look at how far our military families have come this year

Today is Veterans Day, the annual holiday where we honor U.S. servicemembers - as well as their loved ones and family members who support them as they serve our country. 

Veterans Day is a great reminder of the sacrifices that our brave men and women in uniform devote to our country. It's also an opportunity to reflect on how far we've come as a country in equally honoring the service of gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers. 

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced earlier this year that "It is now the department's policy to treat all married military personnel equally." The new policy also allows unmarried gay and lesbian service members living in states without the freedom to marry up to ten days of leave so that they can travel to marriage states or the District of Columbia and legally wed their partner.

This advance is one result of the historic Supreme Court decision overturning Section 3 of DOMA. Legally married same-sex military couples are now respected on any military base across the country - spouses can be issued military ID cards, they can be protected by their servicemember spouse's health insurance, they can live jointly on military bases, and they would receive surviving spouse benefits in the event that their spouse was harmed while serving. 

To wipe DOMA completely off the books, Freedom to Marry is lobbying for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act to end federal marriage discrimination once and for all.

A few months after DADT was repealed, Freedom to Marry joined forces with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (later, OutServe-SLDN) to launch Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry, a national persuasion campaign aimed at showing how the so-called Defense of Marriage Act harms gay military families. Through a series of videos and other multimedia content and earned media, the campaign dramatically illustrated how DOMA negatively impacted military families by highlighting the stories and struggles of gay and lesbian service members and their families.

The campaign launched with an award-winning motion graphics video that used Facebook’s Timeline to tell the emotional story of a lesbian military couple.

Over the course of the 16 month long campaign, we featured the personal stories of numerous gay military couples and their families using video, social media, op-eds in regional and national newspapers and television. One of the most emotionally devastating stories was that of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed to see DOMA overturned so that her wife Karen and their daughter Casey Elena would be protected if Charlie were to pass away. Unfortunately, Charlie died after a five-year battle with breast cancer before Section 3 of DOMA was overturned, and Karen worked to continue the fight to repeal DOMA after her wife’s death to fulfill her promise to Charlie and make life better for other gay military families.

The repeal of DADT and the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision have dramatically improved the lives of gay and lesbian service members and their families, but there is still much work to be done. It’s still illegal for same-sex couples to marry in 37 states. This means that while the federal government will respect and honor the marriages of gay couples living in those states, the couples are denied state level protections. This has a huge impact on couples like Heather and Kasey Britt-Davis, who live in Oklahoma. Heather is in the Oklahoma National Guard and she has been stationed in Afghanistan for the last seven months.

Without the freedom to marry in Oklahoma, Kasey and Heather continue to see their marriage disrespected, and they face challenges, delays, and uncertainty when it comes to state taxes, home ownership, and what would happen if Heather was not employed by the U.S. military.

Freedom to Marry recently laid out the next steps in the national strategy to win marriage nationwide. By the end of 2016, we aim to win more states so that a majority of Americans live in states with the freedom to marry, grow public support to greater than 60% and bring about a complete end to federal marriage discrimination.

Today as we celebrate Veterans Day, let’s recommit ourselves to winning marriage nationwide so that no loving and committed couple - military or non-military - is denied the freedom to marry.