With the official end of the U.S. military’s ban two weeks away, gay-rights activists are pressing the Pentagon for more than just the right to serve openly.
An underground group of gay personnel says it has won permission from at least two military branches to let it distribute its magazine, Outserve, on bases.
In addition, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which led a long fight in Washington to repeal the ban, has written to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta urging him to extend military housing and other benefits to the same-sex spouses of personnel.
“Provisions in the Defense of Marriage Act and other laws prohibit the Department of Defense from extending certain benefits, such as housing and transportation allowances, to same-sex partners,” said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
“But a same-sex partner can be designated a beneficiary, for example, for life insurance. The department continues to examine benefits to determine any that may be changed to allow the service member the discretion to designate persons of their choosing as beneficiaries.”
At this point, the military does not plan to recognize same-sex marriages, citing the act signed into law by President Clinton that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department this year decided not to defend the law against court challenges, but the Pentagon says it plans to follow the Defense of Marriage Act.
Aubrey Sarvis, director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said in his group’s August letter to Mr. Panetta that “we fully understand” that the Defense of Marriage Act prevents him from extending all benefits offered to married heterosexuals.
However, Mr. Sarvis identified 11 benefits that he says the law permits if regulations are changed, including military family housing, access to commissaries and exchanges, marriage and family counseling, legal aid and joint duty assignments.
He also is seeking a change in the rules for courts-martial so that gays cannot be compelled to testify against their spouses, the same right heterosexual couples have.
Mr. Sarvis also wants the military to issue ID cards to gay spouses so they may enter military bases without their military spouses as escorts.
“An ID would also allow the same-sex spouse to bring dependent children on base without being accompanied by the service member,” he wrote. “The ability to bring a child to on-base services such as health care facilities is essential.”
On another front, the advocacy group wants the Defense Department to add the words “sexual orientation” to nondiscrimination rules and to draft regulations to ensure that homosexuals “will be treated with respect and dignity.”
“Similar commitments to other groups of Americans are reflected in such documents,” Mr. Sarvis wrote. “The same commitments should be made to gay and lesbian service members.”
Meanwhile, Outserve, an underground association of gay service members, plans a summit in Las Vegas next month to discuss their new freedom and what they want from the military.
Its director, a closeted Air Force officer, told The Washington Times that he wants the military to target gays for recruitment as it does blacks, Hispanics and women, and have military representatives attend gay pride events.
The Pentagon has said it does not plan to track the number of gays in the ranks, as it does other minorities.
Outserve said it has won permission from the Air Force and Army to distribute Outserve magazine at base exchanges. It plans a special edition on Sept. 20, the day the ban officially ends, with 100 pictures and biographies of Outserve members.
“This marks an incredible time in the history of our military,” said “J.D. Smith,” an alias for the group’s director. “Gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members once had to conceal their true identities. By featuring their pictures and their stories, we are signaling that time has passed. It is time for these military members to be honored for their extraordinary commitment and sacrifice in defense of our country.”
Mr. Obama signed a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation in December. Since then, the Pentagon has been indoctrinating troops on how the repeal will work, and Mr. Panetta has certified that open gays will not harm military readiness.