Same-sex couples fight for equal treatment in military

They still face exclusion after ‘Don’t Ask’ ends

SANFORD, N.C. — First Lieutenant Nakisha Hardy spent the first nine months of her marriage on a remote Army base in Afghanistan, a tour of duty punctuated by sporadic mortar blasts and constant e-mails to her spouse back home.

The strains of that separation lingered even after Hardy returned to Fort Bragg in September.

So she signed up for a military retreat to help soldiers and their husbands and wives cope with the pressures of deployments and relocations.


But less than 24 hours after arriving at the retreat near here, she and her spouse were told to leave. The military chaplains who organized the program last month said the couple were making others uncomfortable. They said they had determined that under federal law the program could serve only heterosexual married couples.

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Hardy is a lesbian in a same-sex marriage who had hoped that the repeal of ‘‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’ in 2011 would allow her to fully participate in military life.

But she and many other gay and bisexual service members say they continue to encounter a raft of rules and regulations barring them from receiving benefits and privileges routinely accorded to heterosexual service members.

Hardy had been assured by the chaplain’s office in the weeks before the retreat that she and her wife were welcome to attend.

The chaplains said in hindsight that those assurances were given in error.


‘‘I felt hurt, humiliated,’’ said Hardy, 28. ‘‘These were people I had been deployed with. And they were telling me I can go to fight the war on terrorism with them, but I can’t attend a seminar with them to keep my marriage healthy.’’

Gay marriage is now legal in nine states and in the District of Columbia. But because same-sex marriages are not recognized under federal law, the spouses of gay service members are barred from receiving medical and dental insurance and surviving spouse benefits and are not allowed to receive treatment in military medical facilities.

Spouses are also barred from receiving military identification cards, which provide access to many community activities and services on base, including movie theaters, day care centers, gyms, and commissaries.

Gay service members who are married are not permitted to receive discounted housing that is routinely provided to heterosexual married couples.

The disparities have galvanized some married service members and their spouses to fire off angry letters to members of Congress, to blog about their experience, and to demand meetings with their commanders to protest their treatment.


Advocacy groups, including the American Military Partner Association and OutServe-SLDN, are pressing lawmakers and Pentagon officials to rectify the situation.

Meanwhile, military commanders are struggling to navigate the new terrain, sorting through rules and regulations to determine what is permissible and what is not. No longer forced to hide their sexuality, some soldiers are prodding their leaders to rethink the status quo.

‘‘Commanders are in a challenging environment right now’’ because of the conflicting rules, said Tammy Schultz, director of the national security and joint warfare program at the Marine Corps War College, and the coeditor of ‘‘The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: The Impact in Studies and Personal Essays by Service Members and Veterans.’’

Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, vowed to change that.

Hagel, who has been criticized for making disparaging comments about a gay diplomat 14 years ago, pledged to do everything possible under the law “to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.’’