While we don’t know exactly how many military personnel identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, with nearly 40,000 active military personnel in Colorado Springs alone, there are guaranteed to be more than a few out servicemen and women in our great state.
These out servicemembers are guaranteed numerous protections for themselves and their families, but as policy has shifted and marriage laws hang in jeopardy, there is often confusion over what is actually accessible.
Before the 2011 repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, members of the United States military could not serve openly and, as such, could not apply many of their benefits to the families they made with their same-sex partners. As the ban was lifted, so was a considerable amount of stigma, but the Defense of Marriage Act left many couples in legal limbo. (DOMA severely restricted the benefits the federal government could offer its LGB servicemembers.)
Fortunately, DOMA was struck down in 2013, and the federal government acted swiftly in implementing protections for LGB military families.
“The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the US military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a memo issued in August 2013. “This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department, and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married.”
Still, many LGB families faced hurdles in securing benefits and protections for their same-sex partners and family members. Later that year, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and West Virginia refused to follow Hagel’s order that LGB families be entitled to the same benefits as their heterosexual peers. The states claimed Hagel’s memo was contrary to their own state laws that banned same-sex unions. Hagel again was quick to reaffirm his commitment to LGB servicemembers.
“[Denying same-sex spousal benefits] causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice,” Hagel responded to the states’ actions, adding that they were in direct violation of federal law.
Such hurdles were not faced by those in Colorado, where officials complied with the ruling. As Colorado’s own marriage laws have entered a legal gray zone, it’s important that our lesbian, gay, and bisexual military personnel know what they are entitled to.
Servicemembers may list any one person for these benefits, including a married or unmarried same-sex partner. Member-designated benefits include Service Members Group Life Insurance and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance, retirement annuity under the Survivors Benefit Plan, death gratuity, and the appointment of a caregiver in the event of emergency.
Servicemembers have “DD Form 93,” which names family members to be contacted in the event of injury or death during deployment. This form also designates a “Person Authorized to Direct Disposition” for the handling of remains. This person may be a same-sex spouse, so long as the couple is legally married. The military will accept a valid marriage license from any jurisdiction, so Colorado couples legally married elsewhere are entitled to list a spouse as the PADD.
Family and Children
Same-sex spouses and children of same-sex couples are eligible for a military ID card. This card allows access to military bases, including admission into base commissaries.
Children of same-sex couples are recognized, be they biological, adopted, fostered, or stepchildren. These children are eligible for medical and dental health insurance, as are married same-sex spouses.
If a servicemember with minor children is deployed, he or she must have a Family Care Plan to ensure the minor child is cared for. Military members may list a same-sex partner, even if unmarried, as the caregiver for their child. This partner may not necessarily be eligible for other benefits, including an ID card, but might receive a letter of authorization allowing him or her to buy goods for the child at a military commissary.
If you have any further questions regarding your family’s available military benefits, or have been denied of your rights, please visit OutServe-SLDN, an organization that provides legal services to gay and lesbian service members: sldn.org