MARRIAGE DIGEST: With military policy reversed, gay couples want family benefits
WASHINGTON (BP) -- With the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy now repealed, supporters of open homosexuality in the military are targeting another law -- the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act -- and pushing the Department of Defense to do more in accommodating same-sex couples.
DOMA, as it is often called, defines marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes and gives states the option of not recognizing another state's gay "marriages."
Some supporters of marriage redefinition hope the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will strengthen the legal case against DOMA. But even if it doesn't, the new military policy certainly will result in squabbles over what the military can and can't do when it comes to gay couples.
Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network -- which worked to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Aug. 11, urging the secretary to open the military's various family benefits to same-sex couples.
"There is more that you can do to bring about a military that is both open and equitable," Sarvis wrote.
"With the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', there will be two classes of service members in the U.S. military -- those who receive full family support, pay and benefits and those who do not," Sarvis wrote. "We fully understand that the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the Department from extending the same support and benefits to all service members. However, you have the ability, within the confines of that law, to make same-sex married couples and their families eligible to take part in some of the same programs that are available to straight married couples and their families. These include making same-sex married couples eligible for joint duty assignments, family center programs and military family housing."
Supporters of DOMA say the 1996 law prevents same-sex couples from receiving military family benefits.
Conservatives are concerned the military's new openness will not only weaken the definition of marriage and the family but also will restrict religious freedoms and while infringing on personal privacy.
Already this year, congressional lawmakers had to step in after a Navy memo declared that same-sex "weddings" could occur at chapels in states that recognize gay "marriage." The Navy reversed course but left open the possibility it could change again.
"President Obama made a political promise to LGBT activists, and Defense Department appointees have created a shaky house of cards that is about to collapse," said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness.
U.S. CATHOLIC LEADER WARNS OBAMA ON MARRIAGE -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a strongly worded letter to President Obama Sept. 20, urging him to "push the reset button" on his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act and warning the president that a clash between church and state is looming if marriage is redefined. In February, Obama ordered the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in court. Since then, though, the Justice Department has gone from being neutral to actually opposing DOMA.
The letter could signal more involvement by Catholic leaders in the 2012 presidential race.
"I urge yet again that your Administration end its campaign against DOMA, the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom," wrote Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. conference.
Dolan said the Obama administration's opposition to DOMA in court has given Dolan a "growing sense of urgency" to write and express his concerns. Legal language equating opposition to marriage redefinition with racism is "especially wrong and unfair," Dolan said.
"Mr. President, I respectfully urge you to push the reset button on your Administration's approach to DOMA," Dolan wrote. "Our federal government should not be presuming ill intent or moral blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, millions of whom have gone to the polls to directly support DOMAs in their states and have thereby endorsed marriage as the union of man and woman. Nor should a policy disagreement over the meaning of marriage be treated by federal officials as a federal offense -- but this will happen if the Justice Department's latest constitutional theory prevails in court. The Administration's failure to change course on this matter will, as the attached analysis indicates, precipitate a national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions."
Dolan added, "We as Bishops of the Catholic Church recognize the immeasurable personal dignity and equal worth of all individuals, including those with same-sex attraction, and we reject all hatred and unjust treatment against any person. Our profound regard for marriage as the complementary and fruitful union of a man and a woman does not negate our concern for the well-being of all people but reinforces it. While all persons merit our full respect, no other relationships provide for the common good what marriage between husband and wife provides. The law should reflect this reality."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by World News Service.