‘Military’ Doesn’t Mistreat Same-Sex Spouses; US Law Does
Robert Johnson, the fine Military & Defense Editor at Business Insider and veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, makes a common and frustrating error in his story headlined “When This Woman Died In Combat Last Week It Exposed How The Military Really Treats Same-Sex Spouses.”*
Unfortunately that routine awareness was lost to three members of the North Carolina National Guard who were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, at about 9 a.m., as they made their way through an open air market.
The deaths passed largely unnoticed by Americans outside the military, but what caught global attention is Sgt. Donna R. Johnson’s wife and the fact the Army refuses to acknowledge her very much at all.
Gannett-owned Army Times is taking the brunt of the protest, but the Times only followed the AP’s lead, when it mentioned the other two male soldiers killed were survived by wives, while failing to mention Johnson’s wife Tracy Dice.
Readers who knew Sgt. Johnson expressed their outrage in the comments section of the story and asked why the woman, who was legally married just like the two men, couldn’t have her surviving spouse mentioned as well.
Journalism pundit Jim Romenesko wondered the same thing, after being alerted to the lapse by one of his readers, and shot off an email to AP asking what was up. Then, three days after the story went up, AP updated the piece to mention Johnson’s wife Stacy.
The Army Times has yet to follow the AP’s lead, and in the building resentment, commenters there have shed light on what’s left in the wake of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s (DADT) repeal.
Note that, despite the headline talking about how “the military” treats spouses, the story is actually about how the Army Times (a private paper completely unaffiliated with the Defense Department or the US Government) and the AP (also a private company) wrote up the story.
Only after that intro do we get to how “the military” treats surviving same-sex spouses:
It turns out that even though a servicemember can legally marry in a state of their choice and be recognized by law, and the military as gay, the service denies same-sex spouses a long list of lucrative and fundamental privileges.
The Defense of Marriage Act enforces a long list of discrimination, picking up right where Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell left off — causing a whole different type of damage.When the suicide bomber ripped through that Afghan market October 1 killing her wife, Tracy had to hear about it second-hand, because the Army refused to acknowledge her as the Primary Next Of Kin (PNOK). That means she found out about the death later, and that grief counseling and all the honors due to the spouse of fallen soldier are also being denied to Tracy Dice.
What that Defense of Marriage Act also means to Tracy Dice is:
- She could never use the commissary to do the grocery shopping where food is marked just 5 percent above wholesale
- Tracy was never covered under Johnson’s Tricare medical insurance
- Sgt. Johnson never received the Basic Allowance for Housing stipend for dependents of same-sex marriages
- She couldn’t go to base sponsored picnics and events
- She couldn’t get any assistance with relocating with her wife to a new duty station, including overseas
- Once at a new base Tracy would not have qualified for employment or education assistance
- She did not qualify for free legal service
- If she were ever a victim of spousal abuse and the ‘survivor’ effects of PTSD, she could not go family advocacy or spouse abuse centers
- She will not receive any of Johnson’s survivor benefitsAnd perhaps most striking of all is that when the suicide bomber ripped through that Afghan market October 1 killing her wife, Tracy had to hear about it second-hand, because the Army refused to acknowledge her as the Primary Next Of Kin (PNOK). That means grief counseling and all the honors due a fallen spouse are also being denied to Tracy Dice.
Now, let’s acknowledge that this is just plain awful. At the same time, though, it’s not “the military” that created these policies. Rather, it was the United States Congress and President Bill Clinton–back in 1995 when public attitudes about these things was much different. Indeed, Clinton himself has, rightly, renounced DOMA in hindsight.
One of the most fundamental principles of our society is civilian control of the military. It would be outrageous, indeed, if our generals decided to ignore laws that they didn’t like. For as long as DOMA remains the law of the land, the United States military had damned well better follow it.
Don’t like the way the law forces our military to treat surviving same-sex spouses of troops killed in action? Then write your Congressman and Senator. But don’t blame the military for following a bad law.
*UPDATE: After a brief Twitter exchange, Johnson has changed the headline to “When This Woman Was Killed In Combat It Exposed How The Government Really Treats Same-Sex Spouses,” a much more accurate description of the problem.