Washington, DC – Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and OutServe, the association of actively serving LGBT service members, launched a new online campaign today spotlighting the inequalities forced upon gay and lesbian service members by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and other federal laws that prevent the military and Department of Veterans Affairs from providing the same recognition, support and benefits to all service members, veterans, and their families. The campaign, Stories From Home: Letters From Military Families to Congress, will detail the first-hand experiences of service members and their families who are harmed by federal marriage discrimination.
The first of two letters released comes from Army Lieutenant Colonel Victoria A. Hudson. Hudson has served in the U.S. Army Reserve for more than 32 years, including four years of enlisted service. She is a veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Joint Endeavor (peace enforcement mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina), two Operation Noble Eagle domestic tours of duty following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., and one tour in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. She is married to Monika Poxon, and they live in California with their two daughters.
“To think that when I am sent to war that my wife is left out of any support, might not be properly notified if I died, and would have to fight for my final benefits makes no sense,” Hudson writes in her letter. “I serve and protect the Constitution that declares all are created equal, yet feel like my family is the unseen footnote, ‘except if gay or lesbian.’”
The second letter of the campaign comes from TSgt Erwynn Umali and Will Behrens, who were joined in a civil union in the State of New Jersey in 2012 and have four children. The two say they would have been joined in marriage, if the State of New Jersey ensured the freedom to marry for all people.
“We strongly feel that we should be afforded the same recognition, support, and benefits as all other military families. We equally support and make sacrifices for the freedom and security of our country. We hope you will hear this plea and take whatever action is necessary to correct this injustice forced upon us – and so many others like us – by laws which treat us differently,” the two write in their letter.
Among the concerns the couple expresses in their letter to Congress are lack of health insurance for the entire family, causing undue financial strain; inability for entire family to gain access to the base where TSgt Umali serves for things like doctors’ visits, grocery shopping, and military family activities; equal access to housing; and exclusion from survivor’s benefits that Behrens would need to care for the four children should something tragic happen to TSgt Umali.
The couple also shared in their letter the lack of respect that comes with the day-to-day realities of being treated as a second-class family by the federal government.
“Sometimes it’s the smaller, day-to-day indignities that are so hard to bear. For example, Will and the kids recently threw a surprise birthday party for Erwynn, but in order to do so, they had to find someone on base to come to the gate and escort them – but only after being forced to fill out paperwork. No other family would be forced to do this,” they write in the letter.
SLDN filed landmark litigation in October 2011 challenging DOMA and other federal statutes that prevent the military from providing equal recognition and support to same-sex military spouses. Hudson and her wife are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“Stories like these underscore the inequalities forced upon gay and lesbian military families by these unjust federal laws, and today’s launch is yet another way for SLDN and OutServe to highlight the harm done to these families, who want nothing more than to serve their country and be treated like everyone else. We cannot have two classes of families in the military,” said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis.
Service members, veterans, and their families affected by these discriminatory laws are invited to submit their own letters for publication at www.sldn.org/storiesfromhome.