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Op-ed: Equal Sacrifice Demands Equal Rights

Op-ed: Equal Sacrifice Demands Equal Rights


We say the greatest sacrifice of all is to give one's life for one's country. It is those who are left behind who ensure the legacy. Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt was willing to die for his country, and notwithstanding their insurmountable grief, his parents are charged with ensuring their son's relevance in a country that has failed LGBT service members.

Until the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," gay and lesbian service members had to serve in silence unable to reveal their true selves. On September 20, the Draconian law died, but not before Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt's death. He was never able to enjoy the openness he deserved.

And as a result, his parents are left in a fight that most others who have lost a son or daughter to war can skip. Most parents whose children's lives ended in the service of our freedoms do not have to justify their family and their dead son's life. Lori and Jeff Wilfahrt now boldly perceive that added burden as their obligation to their son, his military family and their country. The grieving and loving parents are reminding America that even though their son served in great honor, he served in exclusion. Even though others can now serve openly, the discrimination our service members carried through silent service persists until such time as full equality is attained for all LGBT people in the United States.

Andrew died "protecting rights that he himself could not enjoy, especially the right to marry the person he loved," said Lori Wilfahrt this past weekend during the first OutServe Leadership Summit National Dinner. Her moving speech delivered to more than 200 post-DADT celebrants highlighted the ongoing discrimination: "The Constitution our son died for was intended to protect rights, not to deny them," she said.

What many do not realize is that repeal of DADT serves only to legitimate open service but does not provide gays and lesbians in the military with equality. The right to marry and the benefits derived therefrom are still missing. What's changed is that the iniquity can now be framed through the lenses of gays and lesbians who are open about their sexual orientation and who serve their country with equal valor, pride and patriotism as their heterosexual counterparts.

Like Lori and Jeff fighting for their son, all of us are charged with testifying for those who have fallen -- on our behalf. Surely that includes our elected officials?

It is unimaginable to me that anyone vies for the highest position of commander-in-chief yet denigrates our service members and the freedoms for which they die. It seems too easy for these presidential candidates to spew unfettered bias from behind debate podiums. How can a potential leader of the most powerful nation on earth expect to command a military that he or she also encourages to disdain its own?

As we head into the primary to elect the Republican nominee for president, we are faced with a field of candidates who have shown their intention to roll back progress America has made toward equality. To add insult to injury, some candidates have signed a pledge from the National Organization for Marriage, to which they promise to one day legislate against equality. Such a binding pledge derogates from the role of a leader and the ability to remain open to facilitate and participate in negotiations on all issues. They have made their voices clear, and it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish one from the other on the issue of equality:

* Herman Cain says homosexuality is a sin and a choice.

* Rick Santorum believes being gay is a social experiment that should be kept out of the military.

* Michele Bachmann says, "If you are involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle it is personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement." She also considers being gay and lesbian a sexual dysfunction.

* Rick Perry supports a federal amendment to ban gay marriage -- as do most of them. They're indistinguishable.

In short, these people are unfit to command an America of today!

This past week's OutServe event was an historic moment of clarity. Gay and lesbian Americans can serve in the open, but they still need a commander-in-chief as qualified as President Obama to lead in truth. They need the voice of Republican candidates such as Fred Karger, who while excluded from the debates had the courage to lambast Santorum and the other candidates for not taking a stand on behalf of the soldier who was booed during a Republican debate.

When Santorum says "homosexuality undermines the family," I am struck by the strength of family that I was privy to witness on Saturday night at the OutServe event. Gay or straight had no place in heartfelt mourning and pride of service. We were all one American family at that moment when in great tradition, with hundreds of glasses raised in the hands of gay service members in attendance, a toast was given to the commander-in-chief, to each and every branch of the military, and -- in memory of Andrew -- to the least undermined family of all, the Wilfahrt family.

MELANIE NATHAN is a lawyer and human rights activist who is author of GAY U.S.A. the Blog, which is run in conjunction with GAY U.S.A. the Movie.Video by KRISTINA LAPINSKI.

The following video is a tribute to Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt, a fallen gay soldier, whose parents, still deep in their grief, attended the first-ever Military Leadership Summit after repeal of DADT.

[youtube expand=1 site_id=25879312]

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