Officers’ Wives Club Excludes Lesbian Army Wife
The legally married same-sex spouse of an active duty Army lieutenant colonel has alleged discrimination for rejection in joining a social support organization for the spouses of officers. Ashley Broadway, spouse to Lt. Col. Heather Mack, has been denied entry to the Association of Fort Bragg Officers' Spouses, with a Dec. 20 meeting bringing no resolution.
Advocates at the American Military Partner Association and the OutServe-SLDN (formerly Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) have vowed to put pressure on the leadership and the Pentagon to enact consistent rules across the military.
"I think there are two things that are important for Ashley," OutServe-SLDN's Zeke Stokes told EDGE. "First is, she wants to be rightfully included in the spouses group, just as any other military spouse would be. They are legally married in state where they can be, and according to the existing bylaws, she fits every category of the rules. And second, she doesn't want any other servicemembers' families to have to experience what she's had to experience with this group -- not at Fort Bragg, or anywhere across the country."
The Association of Fort Bragg Officers' Spouses is a private, not-for-profit group over which the military does not have command authority. However, the commanding general at Fort Bragg must approve its annual bylaws and give the group permission to operate on the base.
The association initially told Ashley that she "did not qualify" for membership in the group because she does not have a military ID card, currently only available to opposite-sex spouses. But that requirement was not listed in the group's bylaws.
"Ashley has been denied membership to the spouses' group, and they are currently blaming this on her lack of a dependent ID card, which they know she cannot get as a same-sex spouse," AMPA's Lauren Lamoly told EDGE. "As you are probably aware, the Fort Bragg Association of Officer's Spouses did not make this ID card a requirement of membership until Ashley applied."
Broadway and Mack have been together for more than 15 years. "For 13-plus of those years, Ashley was a dedicated, but invisible, partner," AMPA's Lauren Lamoly said. "She was the 'roommate,' the 'friend' and the last to know if anything were to happen to Heather while she served our country."
Once OutServe-SLDN and AMPA became involved, the situation began to garner media attention. The association said in a statement that it had finally agreed to review its policy "in response to recent interest in the membership requirements of our organization.
"This will be our first opportunity for our board to discuss the issue since it has been brought to our attention. We intend to review the request in a timely manner," the Association of Bragg Officers' Spouses Dec. 8 statement added.
Soon after, AMPA and OutServe-SLDN released a statement announcing that the Fort Bragg Garrison Commander Colonel Jeffrey Sanborn would meet with Broadway on Dec. 20 to address the discrimination.
"By agreeing to this meeting, the post leadership is affirming that, indeed, it does have a role to play when a family in its community is treated unfairly by a group that holds itself out as representative of all military families," read the statement. "Ashley looks forward to discussing not only the challenges her family has faced, but those faced by other same-sex military families in the Fort Bragg community. We continue to urge Colonel Sanborn and Commanding General Daniel Allyn to use their considerable influence to remedy this situation for Ashley and pave the way for all military families at Fort Bragg to be treated with fairness, dignity, and equity."
EDGE spoke with Stokes and Lamoly on the morning after the Dec. 20 meeting. Both expressed anger with the lack of a firm resolution.
For Stokes, the only positive outcome of the meeting was that the garrison commander offered to set up yet another meeting, this one between Broadway and the members of the spouses’ group. The commander also vowed to let Broadway share with base leadership some of the challenges common to all LGBT military families, not only at Fort Bragg, but across the country.
"The bottom line is, they should have had a solution to this when Ashley walked in the door yesterday," said Stokes. "The leadership says he can’t force the group to do anything, but the commander general has a tremendous influence, and if they wanted to, they could have solved this already."
Broadway "clearly qualifies," Stokes added. The commanding general should, Stokes said, "pick up the phone and tell them that he is uncomfortable for his military families to be treated unequally; there is no need for another meeting."
OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson called the meeting "yet another delay tactic" by the Fort Bragg command, and demanded that Allyn resolve the situation.
"Our families don’t need more meetings; they need leadership," said Robinson. "We need Lieutenant General Daniel Allyn, the commanding general at Fort Bragg, to use his command influence to bring this discrimination to an end immediately and ensure that Ashley and other same-sex spouses are treated equally in his community."
Robinson renewed her call for the Pentagon to end its two years of silence on issues affecting LGBT military families, including benefits that may be extended to them immediately by the Department of Defense without conflicting with the Defense of Marriage Act. OutServe-SLDN has enumerated these benefits to the Secretary to Defense through a series of communications since January 2011.
"This situation at Fort Bragg is the logical outcome of an abdication of leadership responsibility by the most senior officials at the Pentagon," said Robinson. "It must end now -- not only for Ashley Broadway and her family, but for all gay and lesbian military families who put their lives on the line for our nation every single day."
Preventing Other Military Spouses from Discrimination
Broadway’s situation is the latest case of what can be perceived as military-sanctioned discrimination that continues in a post-DADT world. It will probably not be the last.
Stokes pointed to the situation that surrounds lesbian National Guardsman Charlie Morgan as an example.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charlie Morgan, a 17-year full-time member of the New Hampshire Army National Guard, is fighting Stage IV breast cancer. She fears that if she dies, the Defense of Marriage Act will prevent survivor benefits from being granted to her wife Karen Morgan.
DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even in states where they are legal. This deprives those in same-sex marriages the same military housing, medical, education and other benefits provided to their straight counterparts.
The 47-year-old Charlie Morgan married her partner Karen in New Hampshire this October, a decade after they entered into a civil union in Vermont. The two women have a 4-year-old daughter, Casey Elena, who is eligible for health care and other privileges, but Morgan’s wife is not.
Fearing that her family will not be able to support itself should she die, Morgan sent out multiple requests to speak with Speaker of the House John Boehner to ask him to drop his plans to defend DOMA in court. Her requests to meet Boehner and share her story were repeatedly rebuffed, until the Huffington Post took up the case, when the Speaker’s office relented.
In a letter to Boehner dated Dec. 23, 2012, Charlie Morgan wrote, "Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Active Guard, I laid my life on the line for my country, and now I need my country to protect and care for my family. My wife and daughter face an uncertain future, unable to receive the same family support services as our counterparts who render the same service, take the same risks and make the same sacrifices."
Stokes said that because of DOMA, there was a limit to what the Pentagon could do. Still, other amenities were within their limit to grant, he noted, among them access to the base, day care, commissary and PX privileges, housing accommodations, and more. A list of the full benefits is available on OutServe-SLDN’s website.
Instead, when Charlie, Karen and Casey recently went to the commissary to shop, Karen wasn’t allowed to enter. Stokes said that their daughter, Casey, asked, "’Why can’t Mommy Karen come in to buy groceries?’ While it’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, it is an example of the day-to-day indignities they suffer."
"They can take action right now to deal with the day-to-day injustices these families are being put through," said Stokes. "I am confounded at why they haven’t chosen to do this yet.
Outdated Policies Leave Patchwork of Rules in Place
Stokes is among those who feel as though the Pentagon did not do enough after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in September 2011 to ensure equality. The result is a patchwork of rules that prevent some spouses from shopping at the base commissary while others can, and leaves them at the whim of individuals.
"As this case relates to larger issues, for us at OutServe, it really shines a light on the fact that the Pentagon has not taken appropriate action to make military commanders aware of what they can or cannot do as relates to same-sex military couples," said Stokes.
His organization has sent many letters and repeatedly reached out to the Pentagon over the last year to apprise them of 18 individual rules that they could amend right now, while DOMA is still in review. These include providing access to things like life insurance, appointment of a designated caregiver, retirement annuity, housing for families with children, moving expenses, commissary and exchange privileges and more.
The Pentagon said it is reviewing the issue of benefits available to same-sex couples, which could include offering ID cards to same-sex spouses. Pentagon spokesman Nate Christensen recently told BuzzFeed, "The Department is conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners. The benefits are being examined from a policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility perspective."
Gay advocates continue to criticize the Pentagon’s delay in acting. They note that they have been reviewing the issue of benefits since September 2011.
"The time is long past for the Pentagon to take action so we can have consistency across the board," said Stokes. "The military prides in treating their spouses the same throughout the country, and DOMA is no excuse."
Broadway’s situation, however, is yet another example of what is sure to be a steady stream of similar discrimination cases that will arise as the Pentagon continues to drag its feet on establishing concrete policies for the treatment of same-sex military spouses and their families.
"Because of the outdated Department of Defense regulations, this is all really decided on a case-by-case basis," said Lamoly. "However, many military leaders are unaware that legally married same-sex couples face the challenges seen in this particular situation. Bringing these issues to the base commands and allowing for other groups to understand these challenges that same-sex couples face in the military allows for these groups to come forward and do what they can to support military families of all kinds.
"If Ashley is allowed into the spouses’ association, it does not require all others to allow admittance, but it does set the example for other groups," Lamoly added.
AMPA has created a petition for those who want to show their support for Broadway’s struggle.