HRC Blog

WashPo Op-Ed: DOMA Adds to Gay Military Widows’ Grief

Under the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex spouses of servicemembers are not granted the same rights as heterosexual couples when their partner is killed.

Though the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has allows LGBT service members to serve openly, the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act keeps same-sex couples from receiving the federal rights and benefits of marriage.

Under the law, same-sex couples are denied more than 1,100 federal benefits and protections, including the inability to file joint taxes, take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse or receive surviving spouse benefits.

This March the Supreme Court will consider whether or not to uphold DOMA. HRC has been hard at work as part of the Respect for Marriage Coalition to ensure the restoration of the rights of all lawfully married couples.

Yesterday Tracy Johnson, a staff sergeant in the North Carolina Guad penned an op-ed for the Washington Post about the real-life impact of DOMA on her as she faced the loss of love of her life.

The Pentagon today announced it's plan to extend additional benefits to gay and lesbian service members and their families. While it represents a major step toward protecting families like Tracy Johnson's, DOMA remains an obstacle.

 

On the day my wife died, I read online that three soldiers had been killed in the area where Donna was stationed. She hadn’t called home that morning, breaking our routine. As my worry grew, I got a call from my in-laws. A pair of national guardsmen had gone to their home, not mine.

Although Donna and I were legally married in the District of Columbia last February, I was denied the ceremonies, rituals and spousal survivor’s benefits that usually go to widows because Donna and I are both women. This was not because of any military rule discriminating against same-sex couples bravely serving our country. It was because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that says same-sex widows cannot be treated equally when their spouses are killed.

Every member of the military I have interacted with has treated me with compassion and care. Many have expressed sorrow and regret that they are not allowed to treat me as an equal. The Defense Department indicated last week that it will extend some — not all — spousal benefits to same-sex couples. Any such steps are welcome, but I want to be clear: As long as DOMA is federal law, our government is required to treat same-sex military partners and widows like me as second-class citizens in the country we have sacrificed to defend.

Army widows belong to an honorable and respected community that is a source of strength in the midst of deep grief and loss. Its members are given symbols of the shared sacrifice that they and so many before them have made. We widows are given financial support to deal with the bills that we used to share with our spouses, as well as medical and psychological care to deal with the unspeakable trauma of losing the love of your life. It means something to be called an Army widow.

Because Donna and I are both women, our love and shared sacrifice are not valid to our government. But in my heart, I know the truth. And I am able to carry on because I believe that our nation is ready to do what is right.

 

Read the op-ed in its entirety on Washington Post.

Learn more about the Respect for Marriage Coalition and find out what you can do to help repeal DOMA.

 

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