House introduces bill to protect married gay and lesbian service members

This afternoon, U.S. Representative Adam Smith, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and represents Washington's 9th District, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would explicitly clarify the definition of "spouse" to include same-sex couples. The bill, the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2012, proposes changes suggested by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in their October 2011 case McLaughlin v. United States

The legislation would affect Titles 10, 32, 37, and 38 of the U.S. Code, which determine eligibility for equal recognition, support, and protections for military spouses. The bill contains the same language as that of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the law that prohibits federal recognition of marriages between same-sex couples and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act would bring the country closer to ending federal marriage discrimination by extending dozens of spousal benefits to same-sex couples, like health insurance, housing allowances, and survivor benefits. 

Our founder and President Evan Wolfson applauded the proposed legislation and discussed the importance of the move:

With "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" off the books, most Americans think our troops are serving freely and fairly alongside each other, but this is not the case. Federal law still discriminates against married gay and lesbian service members, veterans, and their families by denying them crucial protections and creating two classes of service members in our armed forces. This legislation would bridge the gap in our military and treat gay and lesbian service members, who are rendering the same sacrifices and taking the same risks, with fairness, dignity, and respect. It is a specific and necessary step to ensure protection of married gay and lesbian members in our armed forces and a crucial step towards fairness for all loving and committed same-sex couples in America. Freedom to Marry applauds Representative Smith's leadership in introducing this legislation, and will continue working with our allies at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to ensure passage of this necessary bill.

Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN's Executive Director and an Army veteran, also commented on the legislation:

Our nation's senior military leaders and commanders on the ground are increasingly uncomfortable with administering two classes of recognition, support and benefits for our nation's service members - one for straight service members and a different one for their gay and lesbian peers. There cannot be two classes of service members, and this legislation addresses that effectively.

Since May, Freedom to Marry has partnered with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network on Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry, a joint campaign that shines a spotlight on the ways in which military families are harmed by DOMA. DOMA's "gay exception" denies more than 1,100 federal responsibilities and protections to legally married same-sex couples, including access to military insurance programs, Social Security survivor benefits, equal treatment under U.S. immigration laws, and the opportunity to take leave for care for a spouse. You can sign our Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry petition HERE.