SLDN asks Defense Secretary for non-discrimination policy, benefits for gay service members

By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter
August 16, 2011
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to adopt a policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and to do more to bring about changes in benefits for gay men and lesbians serving in armed forces.

The request came in an August 11 letter to the defense secretary.  While thanking Panetta for his role in certifying military readiness for implementation of “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, SLDN’s executive director and Army veteran Aubrey Sarvis wrote, “There is more that you can do to bring about a military that both open and equitable.”

Specifically, SLDN wants “sexual orientation” added to the Department of Defense Human Goals Charter, which would bring DOD in line with civilian employment that enumerates its equal opportunity policy to include race, color, sex, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.

“It should be a simple matter to add the words ‘sexual orientation,’” Sarvis wrote.

SLDN is seeking explicit mention of sexual orientation so that service members have access to the Military Equal Opportunity program. When repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” takes effect on September 20, gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members will not have recourse to an independent investigatory channel — available to women, minorities through MEO — in seeking redress for harassment on discrimination.

Already SLDN has called on the president to issue an executive order to ban discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation.

Besides presidential action, said Sarvis, “Secretary Panetta could issue a directive that MEO is the appropriate place for gay and lesbian service members who feel they are being discriminated or harassed because of sexual orientation.”

Sarvis has also asked Panetta to do all in his authority to address inequalities in family support, pay, and benefits that will exist for gay service members post “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“With the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ there will be two classes of service members in the military — those who receive the full range of benefits and support and those who don’t,” wrote Sarvis to Panetta.

Sarvis continued, “At SLDN, we fully understand that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the Department from extending the same support and benefits to all service members. However, you have the ability, within the confines of the law, to make same-sex married couples and their families eligible to take part in some of the programs that are available to their straight married counterparts.”

That would include making same-sex couples eligible for joint duty assignments, family center programs, and military housing, access to commissaries and exchanges, among others.

DOMA restricts, for example, payment of housing benefits for same-sex couples, SLDN acknowledges. But determining who is eligible to live in military family housing —governed by DOD regulations — could include same-sex couples without violating DOMA, according to SLDN.

Already, military officials have said gay service members with children can live on base with their same-sex partner, if he or she is the designated caregiver.  The reason is because military regulations allow that caregiver to be someone other than a spouse, for example, a sibling or grandparent, according to reporting by “Stars and Stripes,” a DOD-authorized daily newspaper.

In other news, SLDN has just released a post “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal publication, “Freedom to Serve:  The Definitive Guide to LGBT Service.” Written for current service members, veterans, future recruits and their families, the publication is a comprehensive legal guide to laws and policies related to open military service.  It is available at

Once repeal takes effect, service members “are free to come out without fear of being fired,” said Sarvis. “That’s what is important. Whether they elect to come out is their call.”

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