The Defense Department may have made something of a snafu when it came to the two-week old policy of granting same-sex couples inside the military ten day leave to get married if the state or country where they are posted does not allow them to legally marry.
To begin with, Republicans, who are opposed to same-sex marriage on the whole (but not in part as there are some who do support it), have been raising a stink about how it is “unfair”. Additionally, they have noted that such unearned leave would require a change in the statute.
To this end, the Department of Defense is considering changing the special “marriage leave” to a ten day “administrative absence.” This would provide the same benefit without needing Congressional approval.
The intent is to give military same-sex couples the ability to get the full benefits for their relationship as quickly as possible including spousal medical care and housing allowances, among other things.
The Defense Department has not acknowledged that any changes are being considered to the policy, and have not issued the final guidelines regarding marriage leave by 28 August. One service official has stated that “We have not gone forward with that particular policy because we don’t have a signed policy memorandum yet.”
Congressional members have also raised the issue of whether or not this special leave could cause dissension in the ranks, and this has caused the Defense Department to consider broadening it to allow for military opposite-sex couples to take ten day leave if they cannot get married in the nation where they are posted.
Perhaps just giving every couple a ten day leave to get married regardless of where they are would be a good idea.
Defense Department officials have already briefed Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma about the changes. Inhofe is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Inhofe wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on 20 August saying “I am unaware of any legal authority to grant uncharged leave to couples seeking to be married.” Inhofe, who has a long history of homophobia, also stated that he supports “ensuring that all men and women who serve our country and their families should be treated fairly and equally. However, this change in policy will create disparate treatment between same-sex and opposite-sex couples…contrary to the Department’s stated policy.”
Fellow anti-gay Republicans Harold McKeon and Joe Wilson, both House members, wrote to Hagel to remind him that this benefit would be based on “sexual orientation, something that all of the department’s policy guidance since the beginning of the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don ‘t Tell policy states should not be done.”
All three see no need for special leave given the fact that military members gain thirty days of earned leave every year.
Stephen Peters of the advocacy group American Military Partner Association stated that lesbian and gay service personnel would do that, and noted that “This was just a gesture by the DoD to recognize the fact that these same-sex couples still face challenges, that they can’t simply go down to their local court house and get married. It was a nod to the fact there is still not equality.”
He then went on to say that it was acceptable for the Defense Department to ease criticism by using administrative absence authority instead of leave and by making straight couples eligible too. He noted that those who are whining about this ‘unfair special benefit’ should be “beating the loudest drums for marriage equality in all 50 states,”
They won’t, of course. This is largely because they are not about fairness, but hetersupremacy.