Pentagon celebrates Pride month by thanking gay and lesbian service members

The White House has been celebrating Pride month all week, and this weekend, the Pentagon joined in, too. On Friday, Leon E. Panetta, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, released a video thanking gay and lesbian service members for their commitment to the U.S. military and acknowledging their service, particularly in light of last year's official repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the anti-gay policy that prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly. 

In the two-minute video, Sec. Panetta said:  

Integrity and respect remain the cornerstones of our military culture. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force implemented the repeal with a focus on respect and individual dignity. As Secretary of Defense, I am very proud of how we implemented repeal. Going forward, I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America's military a model of equal opportunity, to ensure that all who are qualified can serve in America's military, and to give every man and woman in uniform the opportunity to rise to their greatest potential. Diversity is one of our greatest strengths. During Pride month, and every month, let's celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.

Sec. Panetta referred briefly to the barriers that gay and lesbian service members and their families face. Since May, Freedom to Marry and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network have been working to shed light on the significance of these barriers, which stem mostly from the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples. 

In our "Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry" partnership with SLDN, we have been exploring how DOMA hurts gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. military. DOMA denies same-sex couples over 1,100 protections that different-sex couples receive, include 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.

Freedom to Marry is glad that Sec. Panetta made reference to the fact that repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" didn't solve all of the problems that gay and lesbian service members face. As long as DOMA persists in our country, these brave men and women will continue to have their legal marriages placed into a separate category, and they will continue to be harmed and disrespected by the government.

Sign our "Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry" petition HERE to stand with our gay and lesbian service members and take a stand against discrimination.