As I lie in bed and anticipate the early morning sound of the alarm; a wakeup call familiar to families around the world, I always wonder, “What will today bring?” I am well aware that no two days are ever alike, but to a military family a new day can bring a roller coaster of emotions… Will this be the day we learn of an unexpected PCS? Will this be the day we receive deployment orders? Will this be the day our loved one will surprise us with a call from Afghanistan? We, as military families are the most versatile group of individuals on the planet. We have to be, as a direct result of our spouses’ career. Accordingly, military spouses are single handedly the most supportive and dedicated people to the community in which they live and their spouse serves.
Military Families represent a snap shot of the diversity of the United States and even the World. We come from all walks of life and bring our unique backgrounds to the military community. Some are born into military life, and some stumble upon it, like me, when they fall in love with a service member. In recent years, the face of the “typical” military family has changed drastically. We are seeing more families that are culturally diverse, families that are blended, visible and active male spouses, and most recently families made up of same-sex couples.
For almost 14 years, I was a silent, unknown part of the military community due to constraints of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. During that time I attended a handful of functions but only as a friend, roommate, or cousin… never as a spouse. I was unable to send my loved one off to war or be there when she returned; in fear our emotions would trigger suspicions of our relationship. I didn’t have the support from the military community similar to other spouses and overtime I learned how to “deal” with my emotions and feelings.
Finally in October of 2011, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed and we could live as a proud military family without fear of my spouse losing her career. Although Gays and Lesbians could serve openly, there were still many obstacles our family and thousands of families like mine faced. Despite being a couple for over a decade and eventually legally married in the District of Columbia, our marriage was not recognized by the Federal Government. Therefore, Heather and I were merely roommates in the eyes of the military due to the “Defense of Marriage Act”. DOMA was a law passed in 1996 which declared the Federal Government would not recognize marriage between two people of the same sex.
While it was disheartening that I was not recognized by the Federal Government, I did not let this law stop me. I embraced the military lifestyle and was thrilled I could finally be a part of this amazing community. I took it upon myself to get involved, but unfortunately, my first attempt was met with some resistance. Like any other military spouse, I became resilient… I stood up for myself, my family and other families like mine.
When word began to spread and my story of rejection gained momentum, one of the most remarkable things happened to me that to this day has been a life altering experience. One by one military spouses from every branch of service… officer, enlisted, retired… from within the US and overseas, reached out to me showing their unwavering support. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by individuals from all walks of life who were truly dedicated to the traditions of the military. I was accepted based on one merit… I was married to a service member. Through letters, emails, and phone calls I was reassured that I was a military spouse no matter what anyone or any law at the time said. Less than a year later, the “Defense of Marriage Act” was ruled unconstitutional. Finally, after almost 16 years, the federal government and the US Military finally recognized me for what I already knew I was, a military spouse.
I am not going lie, my journey to this point has been a difficult one. Despite significant progress over the past year, gay military families still face many battles. My marriage isn’t recognized in the state where we currently live nor is it recognized in a vast majority of the states the Army is willing to send us to next. Our family is not afforded the same legal protections as a heterosexual couple… resulting in thousands of dollars in legal fees not covered by the military. If our next assignment is overseas, I am not covered by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), an agreement between the US Government and every country that hosts U.S. military forces, so I am not afforded the A-3 Visa or SOFA Stamp that straight military and civilian Family Members of assigned personnel receive. These are just a few inequalities gay/lesbian service members and their families still face even after the repeal of DADT and the fall of DOMA.
My story is just one of thousands. I’m pretty sure there’s a similar story at your installation or even in your unit. This is our reality. Gay/Lesbian Service Members and their Families are dealing with it the best we can. We aren’t looking for a pity party, or someone to feel sorry for us. We are however, looking for a friend. A friend like Kelly, who will meet for coffee when you need someone to help you deal with what life throws at you. A friend like Rebekah, who will send you something on social media that makes you feel like there’s still some good in the world. A friend like Susan, who loves the fact her son’s new friend has two moms. And a friend like Julie, who treats you like any other spouse at unit functions.
Regardless of how one feels about same-sex marriage, we have one common interest, which is to support all military families. Embrace the diversity that makes up our community and let’s do what generations of military spouses before us have done… stick together, keep one another safe and overcome these obstacles together. In the end will make us an even stronger military family.