Equal Respect

Tracey Harris served in the U.S. military for 12 years, fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and bears the wounds of a warrior: in 2010, she was diagnosed with combat-related multiple sclerosis. The Army provides her with disability compensation, as it does with every other veteran. But as it stands now, the Army doesn’t provide the benefits to Tracey’s spouse that it provides to the spouses of most veterans because her spouse is a woman.

Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), only a spouse who is “a person of the opposite sex who is a wife or a husband” can receive military benefits. The fact that this discriminatory law is still on the books is an enigma, a vestigial legacy of a time fading fast. Referendums held during the election added to the growing list of states in which gay marriage is now legal.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was struck down over a year ago. And DOMA was struck down as unconstitutional in eight federal courts. But DOMA still lives on at least until the Supreme Court decides on Nov. 20 whether or not to hear the cases.

On Sunday we honored our troops for Veterans Day. But really, we were honoring only some of them. It sounds like a trifling number — just 2 percent of our troops openly identify as homosexual. But that’s 66,000 people. 66,000 men and women who signed up, fought and bled for our country. Their heterosexual counterparts can rest assured that if they are injured or killed, their spouses will be taken care of financially.

But the 2 percent and their spouses need to be looked out for, too. What makes their sacrifices any different from the others? Yet DOMA marches on, trampling the dignity of the soldiers who fight not only the enemy, but the specter that their death will leave their spouse without a partner and without a shred of respect from the Army.

Despite the Army’s staunchly conservative reputation, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen supported the repeal of DADT. The repeal of that equally abhorrent law did not herald the disintegration of our nation’s Armed Services, as many on the right warned in bitter diatribes. Nor will the repeal of DOMA. Yet its proponents brought the same weapons to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

Beyond the apoplexy of the right, beyond the shallow forecasts of the military’s demise; of the financial insolvency that will result from DOMA’s repeal; of the masses of generals who will resign from the Army in protest, there stands this: a shrinking bloc of America that fears the present and craves the past. It sees an America that is throwing away morality and tradition, that is growing Socialist before their very eyes. It is the same America that decried universal suffrage; that powered Joe McCarthy and fought to the last man against the Civil Rights Movement; that sees Obama’s victory as America’s death.

But calling for the repeal of DOMA should not be a partisan issue; it’s not about protecting states’ rights or creating an egalitarian, inclusive society. It’s about one thing, and one thing only: honoring the legacy of our troops.

The trajectory of this country is clear. It can only be a matter of time before DOMA sees its last day. Until that day, though, thousands of soldiers can’t afford to rest easy, knowing that while they defended their country, their spouses have no one to defend them.