WASHINGTON, DC — The fight for LGBT military equality will be on display tonight in President Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union address, set to begin at 9:00 p.m. EST before a joint session of Congress. Tracey Hepner, the same-sex wife of Army Brigadier General Tammy Smith, the nation’s highest ranking “out” LGBT service member, will be seated alongside First Lady Michelle Obama during the speech.
“Tracey Hepner and General Tammy Smith are the embodiment of the progress we have made since the repeal of the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law,” said OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson. “They are a military family just like any other, providing the same service, taking the same risks, and making the same sacrifices to serve the country they love.”
Last August, Smith became the highest ranking LGBT service member to come out while currently serving in the U.S. military. She was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in a ceremony which took place at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, where she received her stars from Hepner.
“Sadly, Tracey Hepner and General Smith also embody some of the work that remains ahead of us to achieve full LGBT military equality, because they are still treated as second-class citizens by our military because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and other federal laws that prevent the military from treating all military families equally. Secretary Panetta started the job yesterday of equalizing these benefits. It’s time for the U.S. Supreme Court now to do its job and strike down DOMA,” said Robinson.
Yesterday, outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta extended to nearly the full extent permitted under current law the benefits available to gay and lesbian service members and their families. Though Panetta’s announcement did not include a number of important items that could have been granted – including on-base housing, burial rights at national cemeteries and some overseas travel for spouses, which remain under consideration – Robinson called the package “substantive” and acknowledged that the Pentagon has done almost as much as it can with the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) still on the books.
The package of recognition, support, and benefits – which includes the issuance of military identification cards, access to family support initiatives, and joint duty assignments – does not address the larger issues of health care, housing, and survivors’ benefits restricted by DOMA and other federal statutes. The Supreme Court is set to consider DOMA next month, and is expected to issue a ruling later this year.
OutServe-SLDN is the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel with more than fifty chapters and 6000 members around the world It works to support a professional network of LGBT military personnel and create an environment of respect in the military with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America’s military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. OS-SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. For more information, visit www.outserve-sldn.org.
[From a News Release]