By Maj. GEN. DENNIS LAICH
When our senator, Rob Portman, took a stand for the freedom to marry, he also did an enormous service to Ohio’s gay military couples and their families. As the first Republican U.S. senator to stand up for equal marriage rights, he is helping to pave the way for equality for gay and lesbian service members across our state — and our nation.
Two and a half years after the long-overdue repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the federal government has yet to achieve full equality for active gay and lesbian service members. Although brave men and women in uniform are now free to be open about their sexual orientation, the government still fails to give gay and lesbian soldiers and their families the same respect as their straight counterparts.
The obstacle here is the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denies legally married couples more than a thousand federal protections. Because of this discriminatory law, same-sex spouses of military members cannot share in basic protections such as a dependent rate housing allowance; military medical treatment; morale, welfare, and recreation programs; and spousal survival benefits. Over 100 statutory benefits granted directly by Congress to veterans, service members, and their families are contingent on marital status, and will continue to remain unavailable to gay and lesbian service members until DOMA is repealed.
Like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” DOMA puts military leaders at odds with their soldiers. It forces us to create divisions and follow rules that are contrary to the military’s values of honesty, integrity, and respect. In the repeal of DADT, we’ve learned that being a successful, effective service member is in no way connected to who that person loves; and today, years later, it is unrelated to who that soldier makes their family. While DADT repeal was a crucial step forward for equality, we need to finish the job.
In my professional opinion, the military arguments for the end of DOMA are glaringly consistent with those that led to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” At best, DADT represented a lie of omission in one of the most ostensibly value-based organizations in America: the U.S. military. At worst, it had adverse impacts on our armed forces, where we knew that 66,000 gay men and lesbians were serving with distinction.
In the same way, the federal government’s failure to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples is a barrier to the cohesion, morale, and readiness of our armed forces. When gay and lesbian service members cannot train and perform to the best of their ability because they are worried about the safety and protection of their spouses and children, that worry affects us all.
In a time of economic turmoil and uncertain future prospects, discrimination that forces troops to leave the ranks in order to take care of their families is unhealthy for our country’s national security as a whole.
To the extent that the military, the American public, and service members sought to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” they must see that the same principles that won that battle also demand an end to DOMA. It is time to do right by all soldiers, all families, and all Americans, and ensure full protection of the members of the U.S. armed forces.
Retired Major General Dennis Laich served 35 years in the Army Reserve and is currently serving as director of the PATRIOTS Program at Ohio Dominican University, Columbus.