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Married Lesbian Sailors In Trouble Because of DOMA

Russell and Geibel

Russell and Geibel

Chief Petty Officer Sabrina Russell is in trouble with the military under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In a case that illustrates the problems of the Defense of Marriage Act, Russell has been charged with “wrongfully engaging in an unduly familiar personal relationship that did not respect differences in rank and grade.” Who has she been fraternizing with? The woman she married in a civil union- Petty Officer 1st Class Jodi Geibel…her wife.

Russell and Geibel met on Facebook in 2010. They fell in love, and are married under a civil union that is ignored by the military because the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions. When the two met, Russell was seeking information about working at Naval Station Great Lakes, and both shared a rank. Russell would be promoted to CPO by 2012, and is currently only one rank above her wife.

Russell’s lawyer, Eric Montalvo, calls this a case of discrimination because the two are a married lesbian couple. Montalvo stated “If there were a test case for stupidity, this would be it. . .If someone gets selected to become an officer and they get married, it’s OK to get married. They have a provision for that. This is exactly the same scenario.”

The base is near North Chicago, and the Navy officials there are arguing that this is not about this being a marriage between two women, but rather a violation of a long-held policy intended to discourage preferential treatment among the ranks. Lieutenant Matthew Comer, a spokesman for Naval Service Training Command, claims that “It wouldn’t make a difference if she was part of a heterosexual couple. . .All known cases of fraternization are investigated promptly, and members found in violation of this policy are held accountable regardless of orientation or gender.”

Unfortunately for Lt. Comer, while both Russell and Comer work on the Naval Service Training Command base, neither work together nor would they. They do not even have a senior-subordinate relationship. In fact, their relationship was not causing any issues until someone took Russell’s phone without permission and discovered a picture of their civil union ceremony on it and began circulating it.

In January, the command “received allegations of fraternization involving Chief Hospital Corpsman Sabrina Russell and a petty officer (Geibel). Following a command investigation, Russell exercised her statutory right to refuse nonjudicial punishment and requested a trial by court-martial,” according to the Chicago Tribune. The two women may have been targeted by enlisted sailors because they reported claims of sexual harassment or it is possible that a member of the base’s command is engaging in homophobia by following regulations to the letter even though the couple have not violated the UCMJ.

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