To those who have a heart for military service, those who can handle the ever-changing, ever-demanding lifestyle, and those who can embrace the risks and rewards of today’s U.S. military, we should award respect. In the spirit of this honor and respect, full and equal military benefits should be extended to families of homosexual servicemen and women. Military families need to stand up for the rights of family members and spouses of homosexual U.S. service members that will soon “join the ranks” with President Obama’s repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.”

“Don’t ask don’t tell” is a military policy restricting the U.S. military from discovering bi- and homosexual service members and barring entry to new applicants since 1993. Calling for its repeal was a terrific first step for the Obama administration, but faulty policy implementation of the repeal of DADT could leave homosexual servicemen and women and their families seriously damaged, alienated and penalized. This responsibility of implementing the repeal of DADT rests with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who should heed this message from military families such as mine.

Understand the Grand Bargain

Spouses and dependants of military servicemen and women receive untold privileges, perks and pay. The theory goes that these benefits are provided in exchange for a lifestyle that can change capriciously, bring unrequested assignments, impose prolonged family separation and even cause the death of a beloved service member. Military families frequently relocate with their service member throughout the U.S. and around the world. Many sacrifice dreams, careers, homes, extended families and education to support their soldier and live life together as a family.
Life partners of homosexual service members do the same without the perks. This should – and must – change.

Promote Benefits for All

Today, military families can take advantage of housing options on or off base through housing allowances, shop at tax-free grocery and convenience stores on base, place their children in base-subsidized daycare and more. Showing a military or dependent ID card around town can bring countless discounts, savings, perks and privileges at amusement parks, ice cream parlors, clothing stores and rental or leased properties.

The benefits don’t stop there. The U.S. military takes a comprehensive view of family morale – mind, body and future. Military spouses and dependents are automatically enrolled in Tricare, a military-wide health care system, and permitted access to base gyms, pools, tracks and trails. Families are encouraged to seek higher education through the GI Bill, and a variety of public and private scholarships exist. Chaplains, counselors, social workers and military family consultants are all a phone call away in times of tragedy. Certain veteran’s cemeteries even allow military families to reserve gravesites to be laid to rest together.

In short, military families provide the framework that servicemen and women need to act professionally, maintain stability and attain excellence in military tradition.

Roll Out the Red Carpet

The ending of discrimination and humiliation of gays in the military will only be as good as the support the U.S. military is willing to extend to their families. Sec. Gates’ largest challenge to implementation will be to craft a way to successfully recognize spouses and dependents of homosexual service members.

The three most important challenges to an effective repeal of DADT are:

1) Documentation. The only way to obtain a spouse or dependent ID card is to provide a marriage certificate, or birth / guardianship / adoption / foster documentation. Currently, only certain states recognize homosexual marriage. Military families can be sent anywhere – domestically or internationally. Providing, recognizing and ensuring family documentation is the first key to success.

2) Equal access. Spouses and dependents of homosexual service members must be granted equal access to military benefits, base privileges and pay allowances as heterosexual service members. Spouses and children must be formally and informally recognized, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in military life.

3) Culture shift. It will take time for the U.S. military culture to adjust to the acceptance of homosexual service members and their families. In a military that relies heavily on recruiting from conservative, Southern and Christian demographics, this will be especially challenging, but necessary.

It is often said that military families compose another invisible branch of the U.S. Armed Forces and serve without reward or recognition. This is false. But if Sec. Gates and President Obama fail to incorporate families of homosexual service members into the military community, it will become true. Then, homosexual service members will either watch families suffer exclusion and ridicule or opt to leave the service altogether. It is a loss our country can ill afford.