Submission to the Department of Defense Military Family Readiness Council for the Federal Advisory Committee Meeting on June 25, 2014
1. Transitioning from Active Duty – Accessing Veterans Benefits
It is currently the position of the Department of Veterans (VA) that even with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case, Title 38 section 103c still prevents the VA from granting earned veterans benefits to many legally married veterans living in non-marriage equality states. Rather, the VA looks to the veterans’ state of residency at the time the benefits are being sought, not the state where the veteran was married. This means veterans living in non-marriage equality states are still waiting for access to their earned VA benefits. This greatly impacts LGBT veterans and their families as they transition from active duty into civilian life. For the sake of our families, we urgently need either direction from the Justice Department to the VA to begin recognizing all legal marriages, or a legislative solution from Congress.
2. DoD Non-Discrimination Policy Including Sexual Orientation
While the Department of Defense (DoD) has included sexual orientation in the non-discrimination policy for civilian DoD employees, no protection has been added for uniformed service members. While the 2014 DoD Human Goals Charter incorporated changes addressing sexual orientation, this did not change the official non-discrimination policy or the DoD Equal Opportunity Program. This lack of protection greatly impacts our families, many of which express frustration in being able to report instances of discrimination, as well as have the confidence that it will be properly dealt with. Our service members, their spouses, and their children deserve the same protection from discrimination as their civilian counterparts. This lack of protection exposes our service members’ careers to the prejudice of bigoted viewpoints and provides a roadblock to our LGBT military spouses and their families from fully integrating and accessing benefits and support services available to them without fear of discrimination. This can easily be corrected by policy changes from within the Department.
3. Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) and OCONUS Command Sponsorship
While it is our understanding that the Combatant Commands (COCOMs) have been working with State Department teams to ensure host nations will recognize same-gender military spouses as dependents at various duty stations around the world, no progress has been made in many locations, most notably in Germany, a nation that already provides same-gender relationship recognition. While military spouses and families are normally able to accompany their service members to these duty stations, this lack of progress forces same-gender military spouses and their families to be separated from their service member, causing unnecessary hardship. Additionally, there is widespread uncertainty, confusion, and conflicting information being given by various commands on the ability of same-gender military spouses to be “command sponsored” in many locations. For the sake of military family readiness, we ask that the DoD work urgently in resolving these challenges and communicate any progress on these efforts with our families.
4. Protection for Military Families Stationed in Non-Marriage Equality States
Due to marriage inequality in many states around the nation, our same-gender military spouses and their families are left subject to numerous challenges. While our families often have little or no choice as to where they are stationed, many are sent to states that do not recognize their marriage. This has far-reaching implications, some of which are:
- Military Children Left Unprotected
o Many states do not permit second parent adoption and ban gay parent adoption, causing parental rights for one parent to suddenly end when stationed in these states. This has far reaching implications on the ability of our military families to properly care for and protect their children.
- In-State Tuition/Education Costs
o Despite the requirements of section 135 of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, same-gender military spouses are often excluded and not granted in-state tuition rates simply because of their gender.
- Military Spouse Residency Relief Act
o Due to lack of marriage equality, many states will exclude same-gender military spouses from the protections of the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act. This has residency, voting, taxes, and property rights implications.
5. Military Chaplain and Counseling Support
On August 31st, 2013, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention announced that NAMB endorsed chaplains are prohibited from ministering to same-gender military couples. With a disproportionate number of chaplains (around 1,400) endorsed by the NAMB, this has major implications for our military families in accessing support and guidance, especially for those located in places with limited numbers of chaplains, like on ships and remote bases. This problem was compounded when prohibitions were put in place on Roman Catholic chaplains as well.
The NAMB has specifically prohibited their endorsed chaplains from:
- Performing pastoral counseling of a same-gender married couple.
- Assisting or supporting contractors or volunteers leading same-gender relational events, thereby cutting off same-gender couples from “Strong Bonds” events and similar type programs.
- Offering any kind of relationship training, on or off a military installation, which would give the appearance of accepting the “homosexual lifestyle or sexual wrongdoing.”
- Conducting a service jointly with a chaplain, contractor or volunteer who personally practices or affirms a “homosexual lifestyle” or such conduct.
6. Respecting Transgender Troops and Their Families
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) did not impact the DoD medical regulations in place that continue to prevent transgender Americans from openly serving. In sharp contrast, eleven foreign countries allow open service by transgender individuals, in some capacity, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Thailand. The impact of these regulations have far reaching effects on our military families, forcing the approximately 15,000 active duty transgender service members to serve in silence, and causing harm to their families. Service to our nation should be based upon the ability to do the job, not gender identity. These regulations can be changed within the Department and do not require Congressional action.
For more information, please contact:
President, The American Military Partner Association
(202) 695-AMPA (2672)