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Support for Gay Military Families?

Support for Gay Military Families?

White House

On Tuesday, first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are set to kick off a nationwide tour "to address the unique challenges" faced by military families. But attendees at the White House launch event will not include representatives for gay military families.

In a statement to The Advocate, Kristina Schake, communications director for Mrs. Obama, said, "The president has been crystal clear that the Administration is moving forward with the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' quickly and efficiently. However, it still remains the law. The White House, including the first lady and Dr. Biden, look forward to working with the families of gay and lesbian service members after certification occurs and repeal goes into effect."

However laudable its goal, the two-day military families tour to bases in North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, and Ohio also highlights ongoing challenges resulting from DADT repeal that are anything but insignificant: in part, how to put gay spouses and partners of service members on equal footing with their straight counterparts wherever possible.

Advocates have called for outreach to gay and lesbian military families -- for which the Tuesday White House event could have been an ideal symbolic opportunity, according to one group.

"There is really no reason to continue to exclude gay families or their advocates from the first lady's events for military families and military family advocates," Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson said.

Such attendance by gay families or their advocates at the event would not only have been symbolic, but also would be more pragmatic than participation on bases where the first lady and Biden plan to visit this week -- events where base commanders would likely be responsible for assembling the requisite crowds, Nicholson said. "It would be a lot more practical to make a gesture of inclusion for the [White House] event than a gesture of inclusion for events around the country," he said.

Last month advocacy groups and LGBT organizations including Servicemembers United, Outserve, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and the Human Rights Campaign met with defense officials to discuss ongoing concerns related to repeal, including benefits for families of gay service members. Though the Defense of Marriage Act bans many benefits, advocates have pressed the Pentagon to devise solutions not prohibited by DOMA, as agencies such as the State Department have done.

Partners of gay service members are not only denied crucial benefits such as health care but are faced with day-to-day limitations including access to child care and commissaries. "We're a lot tougher than people give us credit for. That said there are some challenges and difficulties," said one partner of an active duty gay service member who requested he not be named. "At the moment, I can't even buy a stamp on base. That's pretty sad. Our primary interest is just being treated the same as other military families. We're not looking for anything novel beyond that." (Click here for a Monday op-ed written by another gay military partner, posted at LGBT POV.)

In a Monday statement on the first lady's tour, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis said, "Unfortunately, because 'don't ask, don't tell' is still the law, our LGB service members and their families will probably not be an official part of this week's public activities. However, the first lady's welcomed visits to our military bases underscore why we need certification and repeal sooner rather than later, hopefully before the end of this quarter."

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