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What's Changed For Same-Sex Partners In The Military


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden, in Washington. Neal Conan is away. For same-sex military couples, a lot has changed since the end of "don't ask, don't tell." Just last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a list of benefits that will now or soon apply to the same-sex partners of service members.

But the Defense of Marriage Act is still law. Military officials say that means they can't extend all the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples. We'd like to hear your stories today. If you're in a same-sex partnership, and you or your partner serves in the military, what has changed, and what hasn't? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, 3-D printing. The possibilities seem endless: custom Pez dispensers, human cartilage. We'll talk about it all. But first, same-sex relationships and the military. Ashley Broadway is director of family affairs for the American Military Partner Association. She and her partner, Army Lieutenant Colonel Heather Mack, have been together for 13 years. Ashley joins us now by phone from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ASHLEY BROADWAY: Thank you, thank you for having me.

LUDDEN: Let's start with a recent change for you. The Fort Bragg Spouses' Club, you can join it now, but it wasn't always that way. What happened?

BROADWAY: No, I initially inquired about membership just after Heather and I decided to - we finally, you know, tied the knot and got married. You know, we were together almost 15 years before we decided to get married. But once I was a military spouse, I, you know, inquired about, you know, applying for this spouses' club here, officer spouses' club here at Fort Bragg.

And after about a month back and forth in conversation, I was basically denied because they said that I wasn't issued - I didn't have or obtain a military ID.

LUDDEN: And you didn't have a military ID because...

BROADWAY: Because, you know, up until recently, which, you know, we still haven't been issued the ID, the Department of Defense did not issue military IDs to same-sex spouses or partners.

LUDDEN: So what happened then?

BROADWAY: Well, I - you know, I was extremely frustrated, you know, living under the dark shadows of "don't ask, don't tell" for so many years. You know, I was extremely frustrated. I mean, here "don't ask, don't tell," you know, had been repealed. You know, I was - things were slowly beginning to change. And, you know, I just did not expect to be told that.

And I basically wrote an open letter to the president and, you know, asking her to reconsider and basically outlining, you know, my - who I am as a person, you know, where I've been as both a former educator and a military spouse and my work with the American Military Partner Association.

And there the letter basically took off. And what I mean took off is I had many, many other military spouses - and when I mean military spouses, I'm referring to the heterosexual military spouses, that basically came to my defense and, you know, said you are a military spouse regardless of who you're married to.

And basically, you know, they, you know, started sharing my story, and it just, you know, it became, you know, rampant on the Internet, and that's kind of when the media got involved. And from there it - you know, there was a firestorm, of course, on the media. Eventually the spouses' club, you know, did change their mind.

It took quite a while, but, you know, now they have stated that I can become a member.

LUDDEN: And do you go to meetings? I mean, is it OK? Or are they...

BROADWAY: They actually, they actually told me that I can now become a member, it was about three days after my wife had given birth to our daughter, which was just a few weeks ago.

LUDDEN: Congratulations.

BROADWAY: So, you know, so I basically, you know, said thank you, you know, thank you for the invitation, I will be sending...

LUDDEN: You haven't had time to go...

BROADWAY: Actually I haven't had time to do much. I'm lucky I was able to fill in today. But no, you know, obviously the birth of our daughter, you know, comes first and that they had invited me to a function in February, which, you know, I respectfully declined. So I'm hoping, you know, now that things are slowing down for us as a family that I can be able to start attending functions and participating, you know, hopefully next month.

LUDDEN: And now this was your second child, is that right?

BROADWAY: Yes, yes, we have a son that's almost three, and then of course our daughter was just born.

LUDDEN: And was there a difference with the birth of the first - the second one over the first one in terms of your role there with the military?

BROADWAY: Oh absolutely. It was night and day. For our daughter here at Fort Bragg, I just can't say enough about the hospital staff. We - you know, my wife gave birth at a military hospital here at Fort Bragg. Everyone was very respectful of me, treated me like a military spouse. You know, I had full, you know, full rights. I was there with my daughter the whole time, I was there where - when my wife, you know, was, you know, in the procedure, you know, which was such a relief because the first - you know, our first - when our son was born, it was under "don't ask, don't tell" in 2010.

And basically we had to lie then so that I could be with her and say that we were sisters. And to, you know, to add, you know, insult to injury, he was born nonresponsive, and she had complications during birth. And he was rushed to another hospital under a NICU, and during this whole ordeal I still couldn't be honest with anyone there at the hospital where he was born in Texas, the military hospital, because, you know, I was - you know, it's bad enough I'm worried about my son, I'm worried about my partner, but, you know, I couldn't be honest because of her career.

You know, so it has been a world of a difference for me personally in that aspect.

LUDDEN: All right, same-sex partners in the military, what is changing, what has not changed for you? Call us, 800-825 - whoops, I'm forgetting the number, 989-8255. And CJ(ph) is in Tucson, Arizona. Hi CJ.

CJ: Hi.

LUDDEN: What's your story?

CJ: Hi, well, first off, it started last September 20, the first anniversary of repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." I had a little problem. I lost my keys to my truck. And I called my partner to get me - let me into my truck, but he couldn't get on base. I had to walk three miles just to meet him outside the gate and let him in. But now, so we can get him this ID, he'd be able to finally rescue me if I need rescuing.

But as far as different changes that we still don't have, I'm currently an Air Force officer, I'm retraining for a different job. I'm moving to Texas, well I actually moved to Texas, but we decided it's better for him to stay in Arizona while I'm going to my retraining in Texas for eight months because he doesn't have health care, if he's going to lose that if he moves to a different state.

He's also - will have to pay out-of-state tuition if we move there. And also, like, this location allowance that they gave me to move from one state to another, it only reflects for a single person, going to lose out on roughly about 16 percent of what they would have given me if they - if we were actually married.

LUDDEN: And none of this will be addressed by the new rules, the new benefits announced by Secretary Panetta?

CJ: We haven't applied for his ID card yet. I'm not exactly sure if they're up and running yet. But as far as the dislocation allowance and school benefits and things like that, I do not think so, as far as I know.

LUDDEN: All right, well CJ, thanks so much for sharing.

CJ: All right, thanks.

LUDDEN: We're joined now by Amy Bushatz. She's the managing editor of military.com, its spouse and family blog, SpouseBUZZ. She joins us via Skype from her home in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Welcome to you.

AMY BUSHATZ: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

LUDDEN: So can you give us a rundown here of what the announcement by Secretary Panetta includes? What is on - slated to change now, and then what was left out? First, what's happening?

BUSHATZ: Sure, so Secretary Panetta announced via a memo on February 11th that some benefits will be extended to same-sex spouses starting no - really no earlier than the end of August but by the first of October, the new fiscal year, at the latest.

So the policy will give same-sex spouses some benefits. The biggest one that they'll be able to have is receive ID cards, which Ashley mentioned earlier as being one of the things that the Fort Bragg club gave as a reason that she couldn't be in their club.

I say this is the biggest because really ID cards are what opens the door to many other things for military spouses. Because of it, they'll have access to the base, they'll have the ability to use the military grocery store, known as the commissary, they can use the gyms, they can use other recreation and many other things that are just kind of a part of the daily life of a military spouse.

Another big thing is for same-sex couples who are also service members, where they are both service members. The new policy will allow them to petition the military to station them together at the same base.

LUDDEN: Kind of key.

BUSHATZ: Yeah, kind of key to having a relationship, definitely. And if the service member spouse was to be killed, under the new policy, they would also be given an exemption that would allow them to not deploy or to return home from a deployment after their partner's death.

Another major benefit is the availability of emergency leave. Now under the new policy, if a gay spouse has an emergency at home during a deployment or extended training that her service member is at, her spouse would be eligible for emergency leave to come home and take care of her. That has not been the case in the past.

So you wanted to know what's still not available.

LUDDEN: Right.

BUSHATZ: Well, the answer is plenty. According to a brief from the gay military support group known as OutServe, there are about 101 benefits that are still not available because federal law does not recognize gay marriage as legal. The biggest ones are access to military health care system, known as Tricare, and a payout of the military housing benefits available to those who are married and - or people who want on-post housing for families who do not have children.

If a gay service member has children that are legally adopted right now, he can still receive on-post housing. So...

LUDDEN: And these are because of the Defense of Marriage Act, is that...

BUSHATZ: These are because of the Defense of Marriage Act, that's...

LUDDEN: Which is coming up in the Supreme Court very soon.

BUSHATZ: It is. It is. One more major benefit that they will not receive has to do with military moves. Right now if you're a military spouse, when you're ordered to - when your husband or wife is ordered to move, you are able to receive a payout from the military to cover the cost of your expenses to move, as well. Gay spouses will still not be able to receive that under the new policy.

LUDDEN: As our caller from Arizona was just lamenting. All right, we're talking about same-sex partnerships and the military. Our guests are Amy Bushatz of military.com; and Ashley Broadway of the American Military Partner Association. If you're in a same-sex partnership, and you or your partner serves in the military, let us know: What's changed for you, and what has not? 800-989-8255. Or email us: talk@npr.org. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


LUDDEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden. Early last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a memorandum extending new benefits to the same-sex partners of members of the armed forces. After what he called a thorough and deliberate review, the Defense Department determined same-sex partners will now have access to more than 20 new benefits, from commissary and exchange privileges to space-available travel on DOD aircraft.

In the memo, Panetta also indicated more changes may be coming in the event that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, is struck down and that the benefits will be reassessed in the future to determine whether unmarried partners in same-sex domestic partnerships will also be eligible.

So we'd like to hear from you. If you're in a same-sex partnership, and you or your partner serves in the military, what has changed so far, what has not? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Or send us an email, talk@npr.org, and you can share your story at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We've been joined by Amy Bushatz, she's managing editor of military.com's spouse and family blog, SpouseBUZZ, and she's with us via Skype from her home in Fort Campbell, Kentucky; also Ashley Broadway, director of family affairs at the American Military Partner Association.

Ashley, you were saying what a difference the changes have made for the birth of your second child. But what are the gray areas that remain for you and your family?

BROADWAY: Well, you know, we - I think the overall - for my family personally it's the overall, you know, yes, you know, we have - I've been given some additional benefits, but still, I mean, it's the overall inequalities that still faces our, you know, our families. You know, what really - as I hear from people all over the country, what's really disturbing is that there's so many lower enlisted service members who are really being affected not only, you know, emotionally because they're having to be separated from sometimes their kids, sometimes, you know, their loved ones, but, you know, Amy was mentioning the housing. As of right now, most enlisted - and, you know, we in the military terms it's anywhere from like an E-1 to an E-5, according to what base you're stationed at and what branch, they're not allotted BAH, which is basic allowance for housing.

And so we have a lot of same-sex married couples who are having to pay, you know, out of pocket for that. And this is putting a major strain on our families. And, you know, this is something that when I was on the conference call last week with the Department of Defense, when they, you know, when they were, you know, announcing these changes, this is something that I said, you know, we need to discuss this. We need to do some exception policies for these service members and grant them at least a single rate...

LUDDEN: So is, though, tied to Defense of Marriage Act, or is this something that the military could do on its own?

BROADWAY: They can do this on their own. They can issue exceptions to policies, you know, based on, you know, financial constraints. And that is exactly what is happening. You know, a lot of these parents - I mean a lot of these service members are having to pay, you know, like I said, out of pocket so that they can live with their significant other.

And, you know, we all know - I mean, our service members definitely need to be paid more, but our lower enlisted service members do not make what's compared to, say, you know, an officer or a higher enlisted, and, you know, almost their whole paycheck going basically for - just to live.

And, you know, it's an outrage because I know that we can make more changes, that we don't have to wait on DOMA. And I'm hoping that the Department of Defense will look at some of these issues because in the end, it affects all soldiers because if there is a soldier, if there is a Marine, if there is a sailor, there is an airman that is stationed in Afghanistan, they should not be worried about if their family back home is being taken care of.

LUDDEN: All right, let's get another caller, Jay(ph) in St. Petersburg, Florida. Hi Jay, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JAY: Hi, thank you. Yes, I was in the Air Force for 20 years, I retired a couple years ago. I have a spouse, but I'm retired, and the impact of DOMA on the retiree population is, of course, I can't extend the benefits to my spouse, either. There's a host of benefits retirees get, one of them being the survivor benefit. When I pass away, my retirement, if I was in a heterosexual marriage, my retirement pay would pass on to my spouse.

Also, he would be able to be buried in a national cemetery along with me. That's all prevented by DOMA. And even some civilian companies follow federal guidance for same-sex - or I should say they follow federal guidance for marriage standards like my bank. USAA follows the federal guidance for what constitutes a legal marriage, which prevents my spouse from receiving some of the benefits that USAA provides uniquely military members. So there's a whole host of benefits that DOMA blocks.

LUDDEN: All right, Jay, thanks so much for the call. Amy Bushatz, do you think that the military - new benefits announced by the military will have any impact there on private businesses? Our caller was just saying they look to the federal government.

BUSHATZ: Well, you can certainly see that private businesses follow what the federal government does, just like the caller just mentioned. In terms of the businesses right outside the gate, I don't see that they will, beyond the bank question, have really any impact, no.

LUDDEN: And Ashley was saying that DOMA aside, there's a feeling that she's hearing that the military still hasn't gone far enough in making changes it can on its own. Are you hearing that from your community?

BUSHATZ: Well, what I'm hearing is that the changes are slow in coming. You notice that these changes aren't going to be implemented until the end of August at the earliest is - they didn't say at the earliest in the memo, but they said no later than October, so you've got to wonder.

And of course that has to do with needing to upgrade the IT system and needing to train employees on all of this stuff. But August is quite a ways away, and we're talking about military families who would like access to base and would like the ability to use these facilities and these benefits today.

LUDDEN: All right, let's get a call, Sam(ph) is in Fort Drum, New York. Hi there.

SAM: Hi.

LUDDEN: Go right ahead.

SAM: I just wanted to call and let you guys know that even though all these changes are happening, there's still so many people that are so confused about what's going on. Like I go into the shoppette, which is like the gas station on post, and I'm not allowed to shop there because I don't have a military ID, but I'll hold something for my friend.

And one of the cashiers told me the other day I'm not allowed to hold anything for someone if I don't have a military ID. And it's - I've never heard that before, but now they're trying to implement that. And even just coming onto post, they ask you...

LUDDEN: So it's - in a way, the issues been brought up to the surface, and now maybe some people are restricting where they didn't before because they may be thinking about it? Is that what you're saying?

SAM: Yes. That's also odd because people can get waivers for practically anything. Like people - lower enlisted can get a waiver to live off-post because lower enlisted, you have to be like an E-6 on Fort Drum to live off-post, and technically my wife is not supposed to live off-post. So she has a barracks room, and she also has to pay for our apartment and everything for us to live together off-post.

But as their - her chain of command found out that she was living off-post, she could get in trouble, like a lot of trouble from the Army.

LUDDEN: All right, so you're waiting for a lot of this to trickle down then. Sam, thanks so much for the call. There's an email from Alex, who says: Not much has changed for those of us who identify as transgender. We can still be removed from service for no other cause than simply being transgendered.

And let's get another phone call in, Max in Swansboro, North Carolina. Hi Max.

MAX: Hi, how are you?


MAX: The - it - this extension of benefits has prompted us to get married after a 28-year relationship because if DOMA is overturned, we can see that these benefits might hinge on getting married, might hinge on the marital state as opposed to simply signing an affidavit saying that we're in a long-term, committed relationship, which is what will originally be required to extend the early benefits.

LUDDEN: Right, although the military says they're going to look at whether they should extend these to unmarried partnerships. But you're right, that seems down the line.

MAX: Right. So up to now, getting married would have been purely an act of symbolism, and we are practical people. When we saw that there may be some material benefits, that I might actually be able to do some shopping on the base myself and go unescorted, then we decided to go ahead and tie the knot.

LUDDEN: Well, congratulations on that. Did you have a big affair?

MAX: No. It was a very private, very small affair. We located an officiate, as they call them up in Washington, D.C., and headed up there and did a very private thing just with the two of us and the officiate.

LUDDEN: Well, best to you.


LUDDEN: That's great. And so now, what will be the most meaningful to you of the benefits that are to come online?

MAX: Well, the immediate benefits will be access to the base. And that will be good, but that's not life-altering. What would be helpful is if I could get some health coverage through my partner, because as its stands right now, I have to be insured in a neighboring state and get all of my health care delivered in a neighboring state because the benefits of the policy that I have will not convey in a state other than the one where I purchased the policy. And so it would be nice to be able to get, you know, health care locally.

LUDDEN: All right.

MAX: But for now, we have to maintain the pretense that I live in one state, when, in fact, I spend almost all of my time in another.

LUDDEN: Hmm. Well, Max, thank you so much for sharing with us.

MAX: Sure.

LUDDEN: Amy Bushatz, what is the sense - I mean, in the military, they don't have a position on the DOMA case. Is this coming up to the Supreme Court? If it's struck down, what do you think would happen?

BUSHATZ: Well, I would be surprised if the military did not extend the same benefits that straight partners have or straight husbands and wives have rather to gay husbands and wives, although I would be surprised if they did not require a marriage as part of that.

If you look at the requirements for declaring a same-sex partnership that the military has issued as part of this, and you see things like a promise to be together indefinitely. And what I read that as is the Department of Defense trying to break down what is implied when you get a marriage certificate from the state. And since not every state issues a marriage certificate, and since - or to same-sex couples, rather. And since federal law does not recognize those as being legal, the Department of Defense really had to break down what is in there for this application.

LUDDEN: All right. Ashley Broadway, you know, rules and policies are one thing, but the culture is another. And you talked about, actually, finding a lot of support, even from heterosexual couples, when you were trying to get into a spouses club there in Fort Bragg. Have you seen any cultural shifts inside the military in these recent years?

BROADWAY: You know, even living under the hat of this - of "don't ask, don't tell," Heather and I were very fortunate. No matter where we were located, we were able to connect to at least one or two heterosexual military families who are very accepting and understanding and - of, you know, of our relationship.

You know, I will say there is, you know, there has been a culture shift. I've had numerous messages on Facebook, emails, you know, various communications where I've had other military spouses and even active duty people who have contacted my spouse and say, you know, I'm not sure I'm quite there yet on the gay marriage, you know, but I do believe that you and your family should be treated equally. If you're - you know, if you are going to - if your wife's going put the uniform on, she should be allotted the same exact rights as any other service members. And I see an overwhelming majority of that sentiment.

And, you know, for various reasons, people, like I said, they're just not there yet on gay marriage. There are, you know, civil unions, domestic partnerships, yes, but, you know, they're evolving. And a lot of people are, and I respect that. I respect when people are up front and honest with me. And so I feel, you know, it's somewhat of a duty of mine and my family's to show people who are kind of, you know, on the fence about gay marriage that we're just like any other family, whether they're, you know, military, non-military, you know, we have the same issues. We just - our makeup is just a little different than most families in America.

LUDDEN: All right. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. CJ's on the line from Nashville. Hi, CJ.

CJ: Hi.

LUDDEN: Go right ahead.

CJ: Yes. My partner lives in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He's in the infantry. And prior to recent events, he was very guarded about seeing us in public. In fact, he would prefer to visit me in Nashville instead of me going there. And as a result of the recent events, he is now seriously considering coming out publicly with our relationship.

LUDDEN: That would be a big step.

CJ: Exactly.

LUDDEN: And what are your thoughts on all of this? What's your experience been?

CJ: What has my experience been? I felt like there's still, perhaps, many people who are closeted, and recent events such as this should have a favorable impact to those situations.

LUDDEN: Are you hopeful, then, or concerned that it's still going to be difficult?

CJ: I'm hopeful that it's getting better, there's progress.

LUDDEN: All right. CJ, thanks for the call.

CJ: Thank you.

LUDDEN: Amy Bushatz, you're there in Fort Campbell. Do you...

BUSHATZ: I sure am.

LUDDEN: Do you sense changing attitudes, or might there be many more people coming out?

BUSHATZ: I definitely do sense changing attitudes, and not just here at Fort Campbell, but across the military. I hear a lot of stories from a lot of different military spouses as part of my job. And over and over again, I've heard stories of military spouses who are attending a military ball, and they go, and a same-sex couple will take the risk and show up. And they look to the command team at the ball to see, you know, how they react to this situation.

And I've heard story after story of the commander and his wife and the first sergeant and his wife just acting like it's just another day in the life. And then everyone acts the same way, as a result. And those are the stories that are coming back to me here, that this is becoming more and more accepted and just another day in the office. I spoke to a gay - a lesbian couple here at Fort Campbell not long ago. I actually met them in line at Target on Black Friday. And we talked a little bit about how they...

LUDDEN: You had a long talk then, right? A long, long...


BUSHATZ: Yes. We did have a long talk. I talked to them about how they've been treated here at Fort Campbell. And they had nothing but good things to say. She - the service member is part of the Special Forces Unit here, and her wife actually lives on post with the service member's legally adopted children. And they have never had any problems. In fact, as soon as "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed, she said, they - she went up to her commander and told her, hey, I am a lesbian. This is my life. And her commander said, OK.

LUDDEN: All right. Thank you so much. Amy Bushatz, managing editor of Military.com's military spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz, joined us from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Ashley Broadway, director of family affairs for The American Military Partner Association. Thank you so much, both of you.

With new 3-D technology, if you can dream it, you could print it. We'll hear how, coming up. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.