Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal: One Year Later
by Michelle Winning, Government Relations AmeriCorps Member
In 1993, President Clinton released the defense directive known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). The directive prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing homosexuals, however, service members that identified as openly gay were dishonorably discharged.
This defense directive meant that lesbian and gay service members had to conceal part of their identity, and in some cases, individuals sacrificed their personal lives in order to serve their country. Same-sex partners and families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) service members were also directly affected, as they had to remain removed from the military lifestyle in order to protect their service member from separation.
The Road to Repeal
In 2010, the Pentagon conducted a study to reveal how ending DADT would affect the military readiness of the armed forces. Report results showed that 18 years after the directive was put in place, service members did not believe that having gays in the military effected armed forces abilities or effectiveness.
In December 2010, both the Senate and the House of Representatives repealed DADT and President Obama signed the repeal legislation. On July 22, 2011, the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certified to Congress that the armed forces were prepared to implement the repeal that was consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruitment and retention of the armed forces. On September 20, 2011 the repeal went into effect for the armed forces, and lesbian and gay service members can now serve openly without the risk of being discharged for their sexual orientation.
Benefits for Service Members
In October 2011, the Department of Defense identified fourteen benefits for which a service member could select a beneficiary of their choosing, regardless of their relationship status or sexual orientation. These benefits include:
- Service Members Group Life Insurance beneficiary
- Post Vietnam-era Veterans Assistance Program beneficiary
- All-volunteer Force Educational Assistance Program – Active Duty Death Benefit beneficiary
- Death Gratuity beneficiary
- Final Settlement of Accounts
- Wounded Warrior Designated Caregiver
- Thrift Savings Plan beneficiary
- Survivor Benefit for retirees
- Casualty Notification
- Escorts for Dependents of Deceased or Missing in Action
- Designation of Persons Having Interest in Status of a Missing Member
- Veterans’ Group Life Insurance beneficiary
- Person Eligible to Receive Effects of Deceased Persons
- Travel and Transportation Allowance: attendance at Yellow Ribbon Reintegration events
For more specific information about these benefits, please visit the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Services Member Legal Defense Network (SLDN).
Lesbian and Gay Military Families Today
Today, lesbian and gay service members do not have to hide who they are for fear of it damaging their service to the country. Statements of being gay or other related comments about one’s sexuality can now be expressed openly.
Service members are free to marry, obtain a domestic partnership or civil union, or have a commitment ceremony with another person of the same sex without fear of separation from military duty. However, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a federal law that prevents partners of all federal employees from receiving benefits, meaning even if a service member gets married in a state that validates same-sex marriage, there are limits to the benefits available to partners or children. SLDN outlines what benefits are available to same-sex spouses and their children. SLDN also provides a guide for LGBT service members. Military Partners and Families Coalition provides support, resources, education and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military partners and their families. Learn more about their outreach efforts at www.milpfc.org.
Services Reaction Today to the Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
At the first anniversary of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, the Services continue to emphasize professionalism and respect among all service members and their families. As stated in the Support Plan for Implementation released by the Department of Defense (DoD), “All service members are to treat one another with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation,” and that policy has been consistently applied throughout the service branches. Even though the effects of the implementation will take several years to be seen, strides have been made to recognize LGBT service members and their families for their service.
Throughout the road to repeal, the National Military Family Association had no position on DADT, but the Association continued to support all families of the seven Uniformed Services. While the legislation calling for the repeal was being considered in Congress, the Association testified at a hearing held by the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. When asked about our opinion concerning the repeal we spoke of the importance of support services for all those who support deployed service members. We expressed our concern about the children in these relationships, who many times couldn’t let anyone know that Mom or Dad was deployed, and may not receive the extra support or counseling they need. We worried about the wounded service members, who were denied the support from a loved one at his or her bedside.
In order to study the implications of repeal, General Carter F. Ham, U.S. Army Europe commander at the time, and Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, held a special review panel. The Association’s Government Relations staff participated in several discussions with this review panel to discuss the implications for families and how to obtain their input on the repeal of DADT. As a part of our goal to inform family members of their benefits and resources available to them, we have now added the Partners, Parents + Significant Others page to the Get Info section of our website. Please explore this new section and send your feedback to us at Info@MilitaryFamily.org.
Our Association stands ready to support all families of the seven Uniformed Services.
Service Member Legal Defense Network (SLDN)
Return to Full Issue
Department of Defense Special Report on Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Military Homefront Brochure on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
Department of Defense 14 Benefits for Same-Sex Partners News Article
Until military families are relieved of the weight of war, we hope you will continue to contribute to their wellbeing.
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