Pentagon Follows Travel Rules, Blamed For Them

A Politico story headlined “Pentagon balked on gay partner travel” is generating some buzz. Actually reading the story, though, makes it clear “the Pentagon” did no such thing — and not just because buildings can’t balk.

Prior to the Easter recess, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to intervene with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in order to get Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s domestic partner on a military flight for a congressional fact-finding trip to Europe. The speaker succeeded, but the issue continues to simmer for both sides. The Pentagon appears to be self-conscious about transporting gay domestic partners at a time when it continues to enforce a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in its own ranks. The speaker is sensitive to the gay rights issue but doesn’t want to be drawn into a situation where it appears she is dictating policy for the use of military planes.

Under House guidelines, members of Congress may take their spouses with them on military flights if there is room for them and when it is “necessary for protocol purposes.” Although Baldwin, the only openly gay woman elected to Congress, exchanged wedding vows with Lauren Azar in 1998, her home state of Wisconsin does not officially recognize same-sex marriages, and military officials were apparently unwilling to consider Azar a “spouse” within the meaning of the House guidelines.

In appealing to Gates, Pelosi aides said their boss was simply asking the defense secretary to follow a precedent established by her predecessor, former Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois. Pelosi told Gates that Hastert had allowed Baldwin to take Azar on a previous trip abroad. Gates, who was apparently unaware of any earlier trips, told the speaker that she was responsible for the House travel rules and had the authority to make an exception, according to officials on and off the Hill. His only requirement was that Pelosi send him a letter authorizing the trip. Pelosi sent such a letter moments after the phone call ended, and Azar was allowed on the plane.

So . . . House rules allow Members to bring their spouses, but only their spouses, along on a space available basis. Azar is not legally married. Realizing the situation, Pelosi calls the Pentagon and gets Gates, who merely asks that she write a note waiving the rules. She does and Azar’s partner is allowed on the plane.

Why, again, is this the Pentagon’s issue? And how does it demonstrate that they are “self-conscious about transporting gay domestic partners”?

Meanwhile, shockingly, Barney Frank blames Bush. Because, you know, he’s the Decider on House rules.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Gender Issues, LGBTQ Issues, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    More shockingly, Denny Hastert started this particular precedent? Maybe certain other GOP Congressmen wanted to bring their own pages er, partners along…

  2. Boyd says:

    Also, it appears to have nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the individuals, only whether or not they’re married. So a single, heterosexual Member (heh) couldn’t bring an opposite-sex domestic partner, either.

    So, since it has virtually nothing to do with the Pentagon or gayness, the headline makes perfect sense.

    I wish I were as smart, common-sensical and professional as the journalism core [sic].

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Whatever. As long as they’re blamed. Keep your eyes on the prize!