Gays in the Military: Logistics
Yesterday’s “This Week” roundtable had a remarkably civil discussion of gays in the military featuring George Will, Matthew Dowd, Clarence Page, and Joan Walsh. They were all in agreement that this was a done deal, that the national culture had changed remarkably in recent years, and that the military’s own culture needed to be respectfully handled.
Particularly interesting is the point raised by Page (starting at 11:39 in the video) about the logistics of the transition. No, not nonsense about showers and such but how to handle marriage, dependency, and related issues.
Pat Lang made a similar argument at length the other day:
Gay soldiers will have to be given the opportunity to live in married family quarters with their partners. Fair is fair. Nevertheless DOMA establishes the federal government’s policy that gay marriage is not marriage. For gay partners to be given married family housing, DOMA must be repealed. If the US Government’s future policy is that cohabitation of gay partners married or unmarried is allowed then they, logically, will be entitled to family housing. Most states, and especially the ones with the biggest Army posts do not recognize gay marriage and are unlikely to do so any time soon. Does that mean that gay soldiers will have to be given priority in assignment of family quarters? There are only so many units. Will the House of Representatives who voted yesterday to repeal the DADT law also vote construction money for more housing? Will those denied housing because of a shortage simply be expected to find a place to live in towns “outside the gate?” The realtors out there will be pleased.
Then there is the question of the “dependent” status of gay partners who are not also service members. The service family members who Michelle Obama talks about are issued military ID cards designed specifically for them. These cards make them part of the military community. They allow access to military facilities, commissary sales stores (grocery stores), post exchanges (something like a department store) gas stations on post, movie theaters, transportation and most importantly military medical care or its equivalent under the Defense Department TRICARE insurance program. The medical benefit is essentially unlimited and includes pharmacy.
Children essentially have these benefits until they leave school. Spouses have them for life if they do not lose them through re-marriage to a non-service member.
All this is expensive. Soldiers receive such benefits because they are not really employees of the armed forces. They are MEMBERS. Their obligations are unlimited. Unlimited. It is not really possible to hire men to die for you. If you think that is why soldiers serve, you just don’t get it. You probably don’t get it anyway. Openly gay soldiers will have the same obligations and must be given the same benefits. Fair is fair.
Who are the armed forces going to give dependent ID cards to? Since marriage will not be a possibility in a lot of places, ID cards will have to be given to unmarried partners. How will the military determine that a partner is no longer eligible for dependent benefits?
And then, there is the other side of the coin. Whatever is done for gays will have to be done for straights. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) has law within it that limits sexual activity to married people. That law is there largely to discourage activity that would be disruptive to unit cohesion. That body of law is used ruthlessly as backing for administrative action that damages careers when what is thought to be misbehavior occurs. In a situation in which gay soldiers will not be able to marry even if they want to, it will be necessary to change that law as well. That change will apply to straight soldiers.
There are no easy answers to these questions. My guess is that, while the military has lagged civilian society in normalizing homosexuality, it will almost immediately step to the forefront. That is, once open gays become a fact of life, military culture will simply demand taking care of the loved ones of gay soldiers in the way it long has those of other soldiers. So, yes, I think we’ll see, in relatively short order, military recognition of same-sex marriage and of domestic partnership of the same-sex and opposite-sex varieties.