News (USA)

SLDN files suit on behalf of married gay, lesbian service members, veterans

BOSTON — Servicemembers Legal Defense Network on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit in U. S. District Court in Boston on behalf of current and former service members seeking equal recognition, benefits and family support for equal sacrifice and service in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The plaintiffs, each legally married, want the armed services to recognize their families and seek the same family support and benefits for their same-sex spouses that the U.S. Military and Department of Veterans Affairs provide to opposite-sex spouses.

This is the same court that ruled the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it interferes with a state’s right to define marriage last year. That decision is being appealed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states that allow them.

The suit also challenges provisions of federal code regarding spouses that attorneys said bar gay couples from accessing benefits provided by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Those benefits include military identification cards, access to bases, recreational programs, spousal support groups and burial rights at national cemeteries.

“This case is about one thing, plain and simple. It’s about justice for gay and lesbian service members and their families in our armed forces rendering the same military service, making the same sacrifices, and taking the same risks to keep our nation secure at home and abroad,” said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis.

“These couples are in long term, committed, and legally recognized marriages, and the military should not be forced to turn its back on them because the federal government refuses to recognize their families,” Sarvis said.

“We’ve been serving our country too long, working too hard, and sacrificing too much to see our families denied the same recognition, support and benefits as our straight, married counterparts,” said lead plaintiff, Major Shannon McLaughlin of the Massachusetts National Guard. McLaughlin and her spouse, Casey, are the parents of ten month old twins, Grace and Grant.

Currently, DOMA prohibits the military from recognizing same-sex marriage and, therefore, prevents it from providing vital benefits to legally married spouses including housing, health care, and surviving spouse benefits.

Those inequities were recently spotlighted when Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard — a plaintiff in the suit — was forced to seek intervention from elected officials and the Pentagon in order for her spouse, a part-time special education teacher, to be permitted to attend a yellow-ribbon reintegration ceremony following CW2 Morgan’s return from a deployment to Kuwait.

“As plaintiffs, we are fighting to receive the same benefits and opportunities as our married heterosexual counterparts. This discrimination causes undue financial and emotional hardship for our families,” said Morgan.

“As a cancer survivor, who has been recently diagnosed with a recurrence, I worry every day that my health may take a turn for the worse, and Karen would be unable to receive the survivor’s benefits to help take care of our daughter. We are only asking for fair and equitable treatment as a recognized family,” Morgan added.

Sarvis pointed out this is not about special rights, as some critics have argued.

“We are not advocating any special treatment for the families of gay and lesbian service members or veterans, but we want to underscore that all military families should be treated the same when it comes to recognition, benefits and family support,” said Sarvis.

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