DADT, DOMA & Dependents

On 22 December 2010, President Obama signed “a provision authorizing the repeal of Section 654 of Title 10, United States Code“. This information was promulgated to the United States Navy in the form of an official message, known as NAVADMIN 411/10.  Over the next seven months, while waiting for the repeal to be certified, Navy leadership released a series of 14 messages.  The final message, NAVADMIN 231/11, was released on 29 July 2011 and announced the repeal would be effective as of 20 September, 2011.  Section 654 of Title 10, United States Code is often mistakenly referred to as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), when what it actually did was prohibit homosexuals and bisexuals from serving in the military.  Conversely, DADT was a policy by which those same individuals would be able to serve if they were not asked about their orientation during enlistment and did not openly practice their lifestyles while serving.

As part of the preparation for the formal repeal on 20 September, I attended a training session at the Washington Navy Yard on 31 March 2011.  I remember that cold, wet, dreary day because it also happened to be Opening Day for the Nationals, and their stadium is right across the street from the Navy Yard.  The most surprising issue covered during training, from my perspective, was the apparent disconnect between the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the status of openly gay and bisexual servicemembers.  According to DOMA, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”  This means that a gay servicemember who legally marries someone of the same gender would not have that marriage recognized by the Department of Defense.  The further implication is that gay servicemembers would not receive additional allowances for having a dependent and that spouses of gay servicemembers would not receive benefits for being dependents.

But That’s Not Fair!

No, it’s not fair. But what’s really not fair is that married servicemembers, whether gay or straight, ever received higher pay than their unmarried counterparts for doing the EXACT SAME JOB.  If the Department of Defense fixes that problem, they will be half way to fixing the overall “fairness” problem.  (Just as an example, I make $390 more a month, tax-free, because I have a dependent.)  The other half of the fairness problem is the benefits that dependent spouses receive.  DoD needs to take a hard look at whether or not spouses truly are “dependents” and whether they need to be in the business of providing free health care (which is the primary benefit) to military spouses.  (Similarly, does DoD want to be in the business of providing free health care for an unlimited number of stepchildren?  Because right now they are.  I make this point because a stepchild of a servicemember will often have a non-custodial parent who should also be contributing to that child’s medical care.)  I know this seems harsh, but at some point DoD needs to focus on providing health care for active duty service members first and let those servicemembers make decisions about how best to care for their families within their own means.

To Summarize

As soon as Section 654 of Title 10, United States Code is repealed, but as long as DOMA is still in effect, DoD benefits will unfairly favor straight servicemembers who are married.  This can be solved by:

1.  No longer paying servicemembers additional allowances for having dependents

2.  Changing “dependent” benefits, especially health care, such that servicemembers can choose who is covered but in return pay for that privilege

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