Frontlines: The Latest from OutServe-SLDN
When I was asked to leave my unit back in 2004, I would have never dreamed that I could make a difference in my military friends’ lives. Deciding to fight, and having the support to fight for the right to serve all fell into place for me.
I wanted to serve. I wanted to get back to my military family as soon as possible. Later I just wanted it all to make a difference for someone, somewhere.
In 2008, as a result of my lawsuit, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals established what quickly became known as the “Witt Standard." What that meant was that the government would now have to produce specific evidence that individual gay and lesbian service members negatively affected unit cohesion and morale. The act of having to offer this proof exposes and explodes the prejudice that was at the heart of DADT. That’s what occurred in my case and, I believe, it’s exactly what would occur in all future cases where DADT was challenged. I was ordered to be re-instated in 2010 and the “Witt Standard” helped push Congress to repeal DADT altogether.
Last week, the Air Force regained another top performer. SSgt Anthony Loverde was reinstated to the 19th Operations Squadron at Little Rock AFB in Arkansas. How lucky they are! Tony was, and is, living proof that DADT was an absurd law. After he was discharged under DADT, he returned as a military contractor to the same job with the same people he was supposed to have affected so negatively.
SSgt Loverde, I salute you!
About the author: Maj Margaret Witt, USAFR ( Ret.) is a member of SLDN's Military Advisory Council. To read more about her federal court victory, click here.
05-29-12 By Maj Margaret Witt, USAFR ( Ret.) | Comment (0)
Today people are more likely to think of Memorial Day as a three-day weekend marking the beginning of summer than a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s service. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed in 1868 to honor our Civil War dead and expanded after World War I to include all Americans who died in any war. Traditional celebrations are waning but usually include parades, speeches, prayers, red poppies, marking graves with flags, and laying wreaths at cemeteries and memorials.
But for fallen LGBT service members and their families there has been no recognition, no remembrance, and no benefits. Before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and previous regulations which prevented open service by gay and lesbian Americans, these brave patriots served in silence -- and sadly, died in silence without so much as a footnote of acknowledgement nor even the courtesy of a personal death notice to their partners. In fact, while a mother, father or even minor child would be given a folded flag at a military funeral on behalf of a grateful nation, the partner or spouse of a gay or lesbian service member likely would have been ignored completely, forced to mourn in silence, with no support from the military.
This Memorial Day marks the first opportunity since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in September 2011 for the Department of Defense, actively serving military and the general public to fully acknowledge and honor gay and lesbian Americans who served and died in silence. While we cannot undo the past discrimination and disservice suffered by these veterans and their families, we can do our part to ensure they are honored now and that they did not fall in vain.
As the famous poem In Flanders Fields says:
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
We have won the battle of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and the freedom to serve. Now we must take up that torch from the fallen -- the torch of justice -- and keep faith with those who served and died in silence by continuing to fight for full equality of benefits for LGBT service members and their families. When we say we support our troops, we need to support all our troops and their families equally.
We cannot have two classes of married service members within the military -- those who receive support and benefits for their families and those who do not. We believe the Department of Defense supports this concept, but their hands are tied by several laws which define spouse, including the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. That’s why SLDN filed litigation in Federal Court on behalf of eight legally married gay and lesbian veteran couples, McLaughlin vs. U.S., who have been denied family benefits to challenge these laws. Until we right this injustice, the fallen shall not sleep and neither should we.
This Memorial Day let’s take time to remember ALL our fallen service members and pledge our support to ALL actively serving military, reserve, guard, retired, and their families. They give their all to defend our rights, and we should do the same for all of them.
05-25-12 By CAPT April F. Heinze & Michael Magee, Co-Chairs, SLDN Board of Directors | Comment (0)
SLDN Launches Campaign to Spotlight DOMA Harm to Military Families. A week after President Obama announced his support for ending marriage discrimination against same-sex couples, SLDN and Freedom to Marry announced Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry, a new national campaign that highlights the stories of military families harmed by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The campaign launched with the release of an online video illustrating the real injury inflicted on gay and lesbian military families who, because of the federal government’s refusal to recognize their marriages legally, are denied the support and protections that all other military families receive. The video was viewed more than 32,000 times in the first 48 hours. To view the video, sign the petition, and share with your network, click here.
House Passes NDAA with Provisions Harmful to LGBT Service Members. On Friday, SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis responded to the House passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R. 4310, that includes provisions adopted in committee last week that seek to limit the use of Department of Defense facilities, affect military chaplains, and undermine successful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal implementation. The bill passed by a vote of 299-120. To read SLDN's statement and link to the amendments now included in the bill, click here.
Pelosi Calls NDAA Provisions Result of "Manufactured Crisis." House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also had strong words for the House proposal to "protect" military chaplains from performing same-sex weddings, calling the idea a "fraud." To read more, click here.
LGBT Service Members and Families Visit Capitol Hill. OutServe hosted its first-ever Capitol Summit, bringing LGBT service members and their families to Washington, DC for a day of meetings, issue briefings, and networking with one another, followed by a day of visits to key decision-makers on Capitol Hill. To read more about the Summit, click here.
05-18-12 By Zeke Stokes, SLDN Communications Director | Comment (0)
Last week was full of news. Of course, the big story was President Obama's decision to support marriage equality. But did you know that a few hours after the President's announcement, in the dead of the night, members in the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee (HASC) adopted two amendments to two pieces of legislation attacking LGBT equality? Please, read on.
First came two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act NDAA) in the House Armed Services Committee (HASC). On a 37-24 vote, including all Republicans on the committee, as well as Reps. McIntyre (D-NC), Kissell (D-NC), and Bordallo (D-Guam), the HASC added an amendment that would ban same-gender marriage ceremonies on Department of Defense (DoD) property. The amendment was offered by Rep. Palazzo (R-MS), who made the argument that this amendment is needed because same-gender ceremonies were taking place on military bases in direct violation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).But, the Congressman is misinformed. DOMA does not prohibit same-gender marriages from taking place on federal property. Indeed, DOMA does not restrict individual activities; it simply addresses the recognition the federal government may give to them.
In addition, the amendment flies in the face of DoD's own rules. In September 2011, the DoD General Counsel made it clear that determinations regarding the use of DoD facilities should be made on a sexual orientation neutral basis, and that making DoD facilities available for private functions (like a marriage ceremony) does not constitute an endorsement of the function by DoD.
The second harmful amendment adopted was offered by Rep. Akin (R-MO) and approved by all Republicans in the Committee, including Democratic Reps. McIntyre (D-NC) and Kissell (D-NC). The amendment would write in so-called "conscience protections" for service members and chaplains who don't wish to work with their gay and lesbian colleagues. These "protections" would allow service members to actively harrass and discriminate other service members solely for their perceived or actual sexual orientation - not a recipe for good order and unit cohesion. The way that the amendment is written, it would also give chaplains the ability to freely discriminate against service members because of their religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other basis solely by arguing that their "consicence, moral principles, or religious beliefs" may be violated.
So where does this leave us? These amendments are now a part of the House's version of the NDAA. As I write this, debate on the bill is now happening in the full House of Representatives and a vote is likely to take place tomorrow. SLDN is on the front lines, working with our allies to strip these anti-LGBT inititives from bill when it comes up for conference with the Senate later this year. We'll keep you updated.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @wilsonsimerman
05-17-12 By Jeremy Wilson-Simerman, SLDN Government Affairs Director | Comment (0)
Service Members Move the President on Marriage Equality. In his historic announcement in support of marriage equality, President Obama made it clear that the stories of service members and their families affected his decision to support the freedom to marry. This is an important step forward for the marriage equality movement and affirms what SLDN has known for some time - service members, and specifically the SLDN case McLaughlin v. U.S., are having a demonstrative impact on the debate. To read an op-ed on this topic penned by SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis, which appeared in Stars & Stripes and The Huffington Post on Friday, click here.
SLDN to Boehner: You Have No Authority to Intervene. Meanwhile, SLDN filed documents in court this week opposing a motion by Speaker of the House John Boehner's so-called Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) seeking to intervene in McLaughlin v. U.S. for the purposes of defending DOMA and the definition of spouse in Title 38. In the filing, SLDN asserts that BLAG does not have standing to intervene in the case. "Speaker Boehner is attempting to appoint himself to a role that is expressly reserved to the executive branch of our government. We intend to fight the interference of the Speaker in this matter," said Sarvis on Wednesday.
SLDN Fights Hostile Actions on Capitol Hill. Also on Wednesday, Sarvis fired back at opponents of LGBT military equality on Capitol Hill in response to the adoption of harmful amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that seek to limit the use of Department of Defense facilities, affect military chaplains, and undermine successful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal implementation. For more details and to see SLDN's response, click here. An additional amendment emerged that would bar the Department of Justice from opposing DOMA. For more on that, click here.
Panetta Confirms DADT Repeal Going Well. Even as opponents on Capitol Hill were seeking to undermine LGBT military equality, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta confirmed that repeal of the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law is proceeding smoothly. To read more, click here.
Ahead This Week. SLDN is a key partner in the first-ever OutServe Capital Summit. More than 100 LGBT service members, their families, and allies will converge on the nation's capital to network and discuss issues affecting military families. On Tuesday, they will visit Capitol Hill to share their stories and challenges with decision-makers and urge leaders to support full LGBT equality in the armed forces. For more information on the summit, click here.
05-12-12 By Zeke Stokes, SLDN Communications Director | Comment (0)
We've known it all along.
And yesterday, President Obama let America know it. Service members are moving the needle on marriage equality. Here's what he said:
"When I think about members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet, feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is gone, because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage...it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that-- I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."
Last October, SLDN filed landmark litigation on behalf of married gay and lesbian service members and veterans challenging the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) and seeking equal recognition, support, and benefits for all military families - regardless of sexual orientation. Benefits like housing, access to military bases, health care, and survivors' benefits.
And we told America the story of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard. Just home from deployment to the Middle East. Battling incurable breast cancer. Wife and mother of a five-year old daughter. Sadly, if CW2 Morgan does not triumph in her battle over cancer, her wife Karen will not receive the same benefits and support she would receive if she were not of the same gender.
We must keep telling this story, and the stories of all service members and veterans across this great nation providing the same service, taking the same risks, making the same sacrifices - yet, relegated to second-class status because they are gay or lesbian. And we need your help to do it.
Service members are getting through. They got through to President Obama. They are getting through to the American people, a majority of whom support marriage equality for the first time in our nation's history. Now, we must help them get through to Congress.
05-10-12 By Aubrey Sarvis, Army Veteran & SLDN Executive Director | Comment (0)
Boehner Moves to Intervene in SLDN Legal Challenge. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) today fired back Tuesday at Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and his Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) for their request to intervene in McLaughlin v. U.S., the landmark federal court case filed in October 2011 by eight married gay and lesbian service members and veterans, who are represented by SLDN and Chadbourne & Parke. The case challenges the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and three other federal statutes - Titles 10, 32, and 38 - that preclude the military from providing equal recognition, support, and benefits for all military families. The Department of Justice announced its intention related to the case in a letter sent to Boehner on February 17, 2012, triggering the BLAG to make known its position. To read more, click here.
Pelosi Criticizes Boehner Action in SLDN Case. Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) slammed Boehner's decision to intervene in SLDN's case challenging federal anti-gay marriage laws, charging his decision is discriminatory against gay and lesbian members of the military. To read more, click here.
SLDN on the Road. SLDN Military Advisory Council Co-Chair Paula Neira and Communications Director Zeke Stokes will travel to Philadelphia this weekend to participate in the annual Equality Forum. Neira will be featured on a panel focused on LGBT military equality. For more information, click here.
Coming Up Next Week. The House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to begin its annual mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Wednesday, May 9. SLDN will be on the front lines as debate begins and will keep you up-to-date as expected hostile amendments emerge from opponents of LGBT military equality.
05-04-12 By Zeke Stokes, SLDN Communications Director | Comment (0)