Op-ed: The Department of Defense Is Exploiting Gay Couples — Finally
After the news was released that the Supreme Court officially put the Defense of Marriage Act to rest, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel practically sprinted toward the press to issue a statement of total support for the ruling. He grandly stated in a news release, "The Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court's decision” and assured thousands of same-sex military couples that, “The department will immediately begin the process of implementing the Supreme Court's decision.”
Though this is a fairly transparent attempt by Secretary Hagel to gain some positive media after being slammed earlier in June on the military’s poor track record of preventing sexual assault, this exploitation may be the best thing to happen to same-sex military couples. After waiting for so long for equal benefits, anything that motivates the DOD to act quickly (even politics) is cause for celebration.
“At this point we have been waiting so long for recognition from the federal government, that I don’t care what the DOD is doing for positive media," says U.S. Army Specialist Nick McDonald. "As long as my husband gets treated like every other military spouse, and receives the benefits of marriage, I will be happy.”
Specialist McDonald met his husband, Jeff Lorenc, online, only to discover that they had been living an hour apart most of their lives. The usual story progressed; boy meets boy, they fall in love, and in December 2011 they flew to Buffalo, N.Y., to be married. Unfortunately after the wedding, the newlyweds didn’t get a honeymoon; they got a losing battle with McDonald's unit.
“During a period of several months I took my quest for equal benefits all the way up to the battalion level and spoke with my Battalion Commander, unsuccessfully,” McDonald said.
Eventually the couple decided to pay out of pocket to rent their own apartment, a benefit that married heterosexual couples may typically take advantage of.
“It cost around $3,000 to move Jeff to where I was initially, and then we pay $1,000 every month out of pocket for rent, plus utilities on top of that,” he said.
Rent is not the sole cost that married same-sex military couples must take on—health care costs, childraising costs, separation pay, and dependant pay, are among out-of-pocket costs. Specialist McDonald says he doesn’t mind paying the extra money because, “we will do what we have to do to stay together,” but equal benefits would undoubtedly make life less stressful for them both.
So it comes as a welcome relief to same-sex military couples that the Department of Defense is looking to jump on the bandwagon to gain a little positive attention by being the champion of equal marriage benefits. As one half of a same-sex military marriage myself, I say to the DOD: please, mine the gay community for all the positive media you can get. Anything to bring about change as quickly as possible is a welcome relief.
While we wait and wonder when we will get our benefits, we can only hope that Secretary Hagel will be true to his word and, “The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible,” because as Secretary Hagel says, “That is now the law and it is the right thing to do.”
REBECCA HOLLIMAN is a author and editor of beccatheblogger.com and works as a freelance writer in Sacramento, California. She is a U.S. Army Veteran who writes about issues facing gay military couples while fighting for equal benefits for herself and her active duty military wife.