DADT Repeal, DOMA, and Gray Areas: It’s Still Not Easy Being Gay

The past few months have seen greater legislative change than virtually ever before for gay families, maybe most notably with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the government’s refusal to defend DOMA in court. There’s little doubt that we’re at least limping towards equality. But “equality” — or at least the working version of it — isn’t always particularly equal, which people who haven’t had to fight for it don’t always understand. The letter of the law doesn’t guarantee the spirit, and sometimes even the letter of the law isn’t even saying much. For all its history of grudging progress on rights for marginalized groups, there area  lot of parts of redistributing privilege that America doesn’t quite have down.

For instance, ask a partner of a gay or lesbian member of the US military how it feels to be finally treated equally. It’s a tough question, because despite the repeal of DADT, they actually aren’t. Despite a ten-month review and seemingly eternal hemming and hawing from the Pentagon about being careful that all the necessary infrastructure was in place for a repeal, the partners of queer servicemembers aren’t provided the same benefits as those of straight people; their families aren’t recognized by the military.

Morgan, a lesbian who returned from a deployment in Kuwait in August, said her partner is barred from the family support services, healthcare coverage and housing provided to non-gay spouses of service members. She can’t even shop at the base commissary.

It’s not entirely clear what steps are being taken to update and remedy this situation. It seems to be generally agreed upon that this will be fixed somehow, by someone, at some point. The details are still pretty hazy, though.

[Capt. Scott Johnston, head of the Naval Center Combat and Operational Stress Control unit in San Diego] is optimistic that the military will find a way to address the inequity, just as it did when African Americans and women were integrated into the ranks. In the meantime, he said, the partners of gay men and lesbians in the military must rely on private or community resources for counseling and other mental health needs.

In the meantime, it’s noted that the inequity contributes to problems like PTSD for gay troops; Capt. Johnston himself says that “family and relationship problems on the home front are a greater cause of post-traumatic stress disorder… than exposure to combat.” It seems, then, like the kind of problem someone might want to address sooner rather than later.

The situation with DADT is fairly reminiscent of the reality of DOMA; even in states where couples can legally marry, the lack of federal recognition means that there are still endless legal and financial problems inherent even in the most stable and committed relationships that, on the whole, straight couples get to avoid. For instance, activism has won us enough progress that a lesbian couple can now be married and send their child to a college with a crushingly high tuition, just like everyone else in America. How will their weird pseudo-legally-married status affect financial aid? Well, it depends. The NYT has a helpful breakdown explaining that based on where they fall on a complicated matrix of legal union/specific legal status as parents, the answer is very different. If there’s only one biological parent, it’s possible that only one parent’s income will be counted, making the expected family contribution lower. However, by the same token, it’s possible that people who are in reality financial dependents might not be counted, because they’re not “really” family, making the EFC significantly higher than it should be. Financial aid and being able to afford college feels like a crapshoot for most families, and it would be great if arbitrary legal decisions (that are no longer even supported by the Department of Justice) could at least be taken off the table.

And that’s not even including the dozens of hurtful social inequalities are aren’t wiped away by any legal protections. Bernadette Walsh’s five-year-old daughter Noa was required to make a Father’s Day card in her classroom, even though she has two mothers. “Adding to the Father’s Day stress for the Walsh family is the annual Father’s Day breakfast, which Ms Walsh attends with Noa despite finding it ”very awkward”. ‘My daughter looked at the invitation [to the breakfast] and asked her teacher, ‘Can I come to this?’,” Ms Walsh said.” (Sidenote, this also seems unnecessarily cruel to kids who don’t have a dad because he’s dead or not around, and generally unwelcoming to any kind of non-traditional family.) The Walshes and others have formed a task force to combat heterosexism in schools, and help their children feel like their families are reflected in their curriculum. Will there ever come a point where they don’t have to take the initiative to do it themselves, because equality is the norm? It may be a while before we find out. 

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books as well as news and politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel currently lives in Michigan. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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15 Comments

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    Captain Johnston’s response seems really patronising. Oh they’ll “just have to” do this for now, as if its no big thing.

    As for the Father’s day thing why not have all the kids make cards and then put them on display like art work. Instead of a card that is for Your Dad they make a card in the same way you would make a paper pumpkin on Halloween and spend the day celebrating Fatherhood and Father’s while acknowledging not everybody has one and that’ OK too?

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        For Mother’s Day and Father’s Day at my primary school, we could make as many cards as we wanted for as many important women/men in our lives as we wanted. I’m not sure if we had any single parents at our school (no, seriously, even kids with divorced parents still spent time with both parents) but if we had, it would have been a brilliant compromise.

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    The Father’s Day thing broke my heart. My parents aren’t from the U.S. so I don’t call them “Mom” or “Dad.” I remember I always felt really awkward and anxious on Mother’s/Father’s Day when we made cards and I was expected to put “Dear Mom” or “Dear Dad,” even though that wasn’t what was right for me. My point is, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for that girl or for other kids in similar situations. I kind of like Bhan’s solution, though.

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    Why is everything so ridiculously complicated when it’s actually all pretty simple?

    She can’t even shop in the base? what? why is that even a problem? Just no, if they’re partners they’re partners like anyone, work it out like they would anything else; it’s probably less work bureaucratically than letting women into the military for the first time. (I’m guessing I know shit about the military)

    I don’t understand why children of gay parents seems to be such a problem, adopted children of heterosexual parents/children from other marriages seem to figure it out but children from gay marriages-no, what? Too complicated.

    The father’s day thing? (what even) Ya’ll could have a family themed breakfast where you wouldn’t exclude anyone. Family day-grandparents day, inclusive, awesome.

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      You can’t shop on base without a military ID. You can’t get a military ID unless you’re a dependent of the servicemember. Since same-sex partners are not recognized as family, they do not have base access, shopping privileges, housing, health care or any of the numerous other benefits that come with being recognized as a military spouse.

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    When my son was in headstart they had a similar to the fathers day breakfast, except they called them ‘Me and him” and “Me and her” lunches, they had one of each every year. It was for an important female/male in that child’s life to come eat with them and the flyer sent home actually said for dad,grandpa,brother uncle or other important male etc… I am sure it comes from the area the school was in, a lot of kids only had one parent in their life, raised by grandparents etc… I think every school should do that way, to make sure all kids can be included!

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      That’s a much better approach, and addresses all families that may not have both parents.

      I’m actually cynical enough to believe that Noa was forced to make a card for Father’s Day simply because she has gay parents, like the teacher wanted to make a point that her family isn’t “normal”.

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        Wouldn’t put it past them.

        Family projects as a thing really require a lot more sensitivity and inclusivity than your average teacher or classroom environment is capable of. It shouldn’t be possible for someone to nearly flunk a year of English because the year-long project involved interrogating members of the family tree that just could not be talked to and collecting old photos we just didn’t have. AND YET. (Lordy that was shitty year.)

        There are some people who’re really into education reform that want to get parents ‘more involved’ in their child’s education by forcing them to do various homework assignments and/or attending school functions. But if they don’t make allowances for anyone who doesn’t have a Pleasantville-type family they just wind up fucking over the kids who need it least even harder.

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      We had a “Grandparent’s Appreciation Day” when I was a little kid and I only had one living grandparent and she lived three states away so I convinced the nice older lady down the street to be my foster grandmother for the day. In retrospect, grade school events must be stressful for any kid who doesn’t have a 100% flawless partridge family. school is so weird.

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        Yeah, we had a grandparents’ day at our school. My grandparents live in Hong Kong most of the time, but one year, they were actually around during the event. (the other years, I got to be miserable while all the other kids let school early with their grandparents after our performances)

        What was weird was that my teacher was extremely hesitant to allow my mother to come with my grandparents– they barely know any English, so they would’ve been lost. Something about, “it’s not for parents to be there, they get to come to all the other performances!”

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    I just can’t believe that story about the Father’s Day card. As an educator I am appalled that it happened. Were the children with single moms also forced to make cards for their absentee fathers? Such a lack of cultural sensitivity.

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