Those pushing for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell chose New England as their proving ground because it’s arguably the most liberal region of the nation. Yes, we have centrist Republican leaders, every single state has vast protections for gays and lesbians (Connecticut and Vermont will let same-sex couples register into a civil union), and, in Massachusetts gays can tie the knot.
But, if either member of the betrothed is serving in the military, they might want to think twice before making such a public record of their union: while Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut have laws against bias on the job, they most certainly do not apply to the US military or the National Guard. And that bumps right up against DADT.
“I don’t think we can give any individual a hard and fast rule when it comes to grounds for discharge. I think the best we can do is tell people there are lots of things to consider — finances, partner’s finances, long-term financial planning, kids,” says Gary Buseck, an attorney at Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders adding that, although there are other trips and traps (usually for non-citizens, those wishing to adopt) for people who wish to marry in Massachusetts, the military question is a big one.
“There are a lot of things you can do that don’t require ‘telling.’ But, each individual needs to make a series of choices: how long they have been in the military, is it your career, do you depend on the pension. Maybe you decide as much as you’d like to get married, you put it off because you don’t want to risk that pension.”
Not quite fair, now, is it?
Dixon Osburn doesn’t think so, and the growing number of states that allow for such unions is yet another reason for the urgency of a DADT repeal.
“When you have a public record that indicates your relationship, that could cause a problem. You [also] can’t get spousal benefits, which is one of the reasons why we want to get married [in the first place]. It is tricky and we do have an increasing number of cases that come to us with people who want to get married and want to know what the consequences are,” says Osburn, of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “Some of these couples have children and they want to figure out how their children can get proper health care ... they all involve risk ... it’s really a matter of what sort of risks they want to take.”
For most, though, it’s the pension, stupid — and those in the know would often suggest to just not pop the question.
“Anybody who does anything that leads to a public record risks being discharged. The question is whether the military would actually get a copy of that information,” says Osburn. “With the public record there, there is certainly a strong risk that the military could obtain that information.”