This week I attended a briefing at the Pentagon that drew so many attendees that the large auditorium was packed to the point of standing room only. The brief covered what we as Soldiers and Army Civilian employees should expect upon a repeal of what’s most commonly known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As I sat and looked up at the PowerPoint slides projected onto the huge screens and listened to the words of the Lieutenant General giving the briefing, I couldn’t help but wonder if this step toward more equal rights for individuals in the military might lead to others outside the ranks as well in the United States.
Until a decision is made by Congressional vote to officially repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, current policies and rules will be followed. Once the policy is repealed, there will be a set amount of time and then Army Soldiers and Civilian employees will be part of an organization that is “sexual orientation neutral.” This will most dramatically affect two aspects of current military policy: 1) No longer can someone be discharged from the Army based solely upon reason of sexual orientation and 2) No one can be denied a position in the Army based solely based upon sexual orientation.
As pointed out in the briefing, there really won’t be a lot of change in regard to day-to-day operations or our cultural environment. Soldiers and Civilian employees will still be rated upon their personal merit and their job performance as they always have. Discrimination and harassment of any kind is discouraged and will not be tolerated when brought to light. Any inappropriate relationship/fraternization will be dealt with in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice just as it always has. But there will be family-related issues I think will inevitably come up such as spousal rights, for example.
It was explained in the briefing that the Army’s stance on marriage must follow current Congressional guidance—policy must reflect observance of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (1996). Therefore, the Army cannot respect a state marriage license of a homosexual couple, for instance, because the organization must first follow Defense of Marriage Act guidance which does not recognize marriage unless it is between a man and a woman. Valid points were made, however that children of GLTBC couples may be housed with the partner/spouse if the military spouse/partner is deployed, for example, and Soldiers can leave their retirement benefits, life insurance, and other benefits to whomever they choose—as has always been the case. However, GLTBC Soldiers and Civilian employees will not be able to name their partners/spouses as “dependents” as would be the case in marriages between men and women: this will remain the case since the Army cannot go against the Defense of Marriage Act. One interesting question that was asked questioned the Army’s stance on non-dependent housing. Currently in most situations, non-dependents are not authorized to cohabitate with Soldiers in their government housing. However, it was pointed out that someone could apply for special consideration if he/she so desired.
I can’t help but wonder what other changes may lie ahead not just for the military environment but other places as well. I can definitely see a few areas, particularly in regard to family life and benefits (such as medical and housing), that will be challenged and possibly altered at some point in time in the military. As we’ve seen in the past, sometimes it is within the military ranks that society’s divisional walls are torn down in order for Soldiers to accomplish common life goals and challenges together. It will be interesting in the years to come to look back on this time period of evolving equal rights matters in the United States.
Natosha Monroe is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.