Working closely with members of our military and their families across Massachusetts the last 12 years has taught me a few things about the way they see their public service. It shouldn’t surprise any of us that service men and women feel they’ve answered a call to serve their country and, whether in battle or not, what happens in the line of duty is part of the risks they knew they would face.
When the Supreme Court ended the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act in June, those of us fighting for equality these many years knew the ripples would stretch far and wide – but assumed implementation would continue to be rocky. But yesterday’s decision by the Pentagon to extend federal benefits to the families of legally married same-sex members of the military is encouraging in its clarity and speed.
“The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the U.S. Military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally as the law directs,” the Pentagon announced Wednesday. The announcement said the Pentagon would allow leave for couples who are not stationed in jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage so they can travel to states like ours to be married.
This extension of earned benefits to families of legally married members of the military is a huge leap forward. And, based on my work with military families, something the Pentagon is right to grant because military families might be the last to truly ask.
What surprises some is that the selfless call to serve extends to military families. When we at the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund work with the families of fallen service men and women, more often than not the first response to offers to help – from our nonprofit, from state and federal veteran’s services or friends and family – is to politely decline the offer. Even when it comes to benefits they know they deserve and are part of what our government promised their loved ones, the first inclination is to say “no thanks” because it was all part of signing up for our citizen military.
That’s why doing the work our nonprofit does, helping secure benefits and other support for the families of our military heroes, is so important. And that’s why decisions like the one made yesterday is so important.
The fight is by no means over and I will join others in continuing to fight to ensure that the entire LGBT community in the military has equal protection throughout the United States. It is worth pausing to reflect on worthy successes and praise those who led them but we also have to stand up with those able to join us and also for those who, because it is sometimes just the military way, need us to do it for them.
When a hero gives their life for our great nation, no reasonable person asks whether they were gay or straight, bisexual or transgendered. The first question I hear for military families is, “How can we help you make sense of your loss, honor your loved one and rebuild your life in the wake of such tragedy?”
Now the Pentagon has helped make that a reality – and policy – for all those serving in the military.