The Henderson Family
October 1, 2012
Dear Members of Congress,
My name is Jerret Henderson, and I am a legally married same-sex military spouse. My husband, Airman First Class Daniel P. Henderson, and I were married on May 19, 2011, in a civil ceremony in Sidney, Iowa. Both Daniel and I are practicing Catholics and were raised in very traditional households with tight-knit families and conservative values. In fact, I am not ashamed to admit that I voted for President George W. Bush, and many people have labeled me a Log Cabin Republican.
Today, nearly 16 years after the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law, six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont) and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages. Washington State and Maryland will hold referendums in November 2012 on the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage. California recognizes same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions as equivalent to marriages in all but name, as do New Mexico and Maryland. Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington State recognize same-sex marriages as marriage-like contracts under the name of civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Times have changed, the country has changed, and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is harming families all across this country.
As a legally married same-sex military family, I can tell you from personal experience just how harmful the Defense of Marriage Act is to the morale of our men and women in uniform. It is stressful, upsetting, and unfair for their spouses and families who have made, and continue to make, the same sacrifices as any other military family. Indeed, with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in September of 2011, the Defense of Marriage Act effectively created a two tiered system within the military with respect to rights and benefits – those who have them, and those who don’t—and these discrepancies in everything from housing allowances and health care to hospital visitation rights and survivor benefits are so profoundly prejudiced and discriminatory that it cannot be deemed anything other than un-American.
Moreover, the United States military has no justifiable interest in seeing that some of its service members receive fewer benefits than others, recognizing that providing these benefits is necessary to compete with the private sector to maintain quality enlistment and retention. The Defense of Marriage Act is not only un-American, but it is actually harmful to the United States military, and therefore detrimental to national security.
In fact, the two-tiered system which the Defense of Marriage Act has created within the military is so overtly outrageous that it is often difficult for me to describe to someone just how foolish and unjust it is. When I am able to speak with someone on a one-on-one basis and highlight some of the major discrepancies this discriminatory law has created, people are shocked. When I tell someone that if my husband were killed in combat the military would not release his body to me, his husband, because I am not recognized as “next of kin,” people are shocked. When I tell people that if my husband were hospitalized at a military installation I could be denied access to him and wouldn’t be able to make medical decisions on his behalf, people are shocked. When I tell people that if I were sexually assaulted I would not be allowed to seek treatment on base, people are shocked. When I tell people that I am disabled and lack medical insurance, people are shocked to learn that I am unable to receive my husband’s TRICARE insurance. These are just a few of the far-reaching and unintended consequences of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds more benefits and rights which the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits me from receiving. Whether it’s going grocery shopping at the Commissary or using a restroom on base, I must be accompanied by my husband on base at all times, because I am unable to receive a military dependent ID card. I am barred from using base facilities and amenities, like the base wood shop and gym, and must submit to background checks and scrutiny to obtain even a pass to get on base. The military will not grant my husband and me a housing allowance at the “with dependent” rate because the United States military is prohibited from recognizing our marriage due to the Defense of Marriage Act.
My husband and I survive on nearly half of what he would make if he were married to a woman. Sadly, a few months ago my husband and I had no food or money, and were directed to a military charity called Operation Warm Heart for assistance. Unfortunately, this non-profit military charity refused to help us with food because I am not recognized as a spouse.
On behalf of myself, my family, and other gay and lesbian military families, I urge you to support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Please think about the harm it is causing to families all across the country.