The motto of the United States Marine Corps is simple and profound: “Semper Fidelis“, Latin for “always faithful.” And, as any Marine can tell you, there is no such thing as being a “former” member of the corp. “Once a Marine,” goes the saying, “always a Marine.”
But the government these men and women serve does not always live up to the promise of loyalty it asks its members to make. That’s a sleeping problem for the thousands of gay and lesbians who have served our nation honorably in the Marines, or any branch of the Armed Services. At any time, a recent veteran could risk losing his or her health, education or other benefits, even after years of service and their spouses will never be treated equally under the law.
Even after the California Supreme Court’s historic decision granting marriage equality, not all Californians have the right to marry – and those who don’t are the ones who deserve the right most. With a nervy nonchalance, in it’s Q&A on Gay Marriage, the Los Angeles Times states that, “Marrying or attempting to marry a person of the same sex is grounds for dismissal from the service.”
That just seems just plain wrong particularly since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies let many gays in the military serve with honor and distinction. But the awkward compromise of the Clinton era doesn’t just apply to those on active duty. According to the Service Members Legal Defense Network, an organization that fights for equal rights for gays in the military, the injustice of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell extends far beyond one’s enlistment. It covers veterans of all wars and of all ages.
Regardless of when they served, gay and lesbian veterans and their spouses are denied equal treatment in life and death. Although my grandfather violated military laws by joining the Army before he was eighteen, the enthusiastic soldier lays buried in the cemetery at Fort Sam Houston. Next to him lay my grandmother, who never served a day in her life but was entitled to be buried next to her husband as a dutiful – and legally recognized – spouse. Such a privilege would not be afforded to a gay draftee from World War II or Vietnam.
It is even worse for the men and women who are just now returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. While nearly three thousand service members have been dismissed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, tens of thousands more have left the service after their first enlistment. Although they survived in the closet for years and finished their active duty honorably, as they return to civilian life, they must still keep the closet door shut, or risk being discharged and imperiling their veterans’ benefits. Soldiers, sailors or marines who are no longer on active duty are subject to the provisions of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. So are veteran members of the National Guard, Reserves or Individual Ready Reserves even after they have left active duty and are allegedly living civilian lifestyles. For all these men and women, that means no statements regarding their sexual orientation, nor sodomy, nor hugging, nor hand-holding…and most certainly no marriage!
The burden on these veteran reservists is already great enough. After putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom in combat, they are returned to civilian life with a years-long noose around their neck: the threat that, one day, they may very likely get called back to duty.
For some, this burden can result in a near paralysis, where the uncertainty of their future keeps them from making any commitments beyond the time that they know they have for certain in civilian life. And for our gay and lesbian veterans, the military is telling them that they must go it alone. Anyone who says they support the troops should find this contradiction morally repugnant.
According to SLDN, not only is gay marriage out of the question, but so are accepting domestic partnership health care benefits, joining a group like the Log Cabin Republicans, or being added to a partner’s USAA policy (or vice versa), if the law is strictly followed. And these are rules governing civilians in strictly civilian settings.
For gay and lesbian veterans, the unfortunate reality is that, until “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed, they must hope that the ones they love, and those that love them, are more abiding by the spirit of Semper Fi than the government they’ve so loyally served.