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Commentary: How DOMA affects my Navy family

(Editor's note: Jonathan Holmes is a member of the American Military Partner Association, the nation’s resource and support network for the partners and spouses of LGBT servicemembers and veterans. He and his partner, an active duty sailor stationed at Camp Pendleton, live in Temecula, Calif.)

In my microcosm of existence, I used to forget how hard life is for others of the gay community. I used to be very protected from people who make those of us that are denied equal protection feel less than human, undeserving of fair and equal treatment, and not worthy of the pursuit of happiness. It used to be that way, although now, the black and white veil that covered my awareness has been pulled back, my eyes blinded by the vivid color reality of our world.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) never seemed like anything that was of any interest to my partner Mitch or me. It was something that other gay men and women were concerned with and bothered by, but not us really. We had never even thought that marriage would ever be possible for us in our lifetime.

However, when Proposition 8 in California was declared unconstitutional, Mitch and I started to realize that marriage equality was something we needed to pay attention to. Paying attention though caused a lot of frustration for our family. It felt as if the federal government was now determined more than ever to discriminate against my family, and I felt extremely angry. I served this country honorably in the Navy, and my partner of several years still serves our great country, yet we are treated as second-class citizens.

Mitch and I were elated when DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) was overturned. We now can be open and completely unafraid of reprisals or threats of dismissal because of our relationship. I have been the “spouse” of an active duty member for more than 13 years. When I got out of the Navy, I saw my new role in the Navy was to serve by assisting Mitch with his naval career. Being a military spouse comes with great sacrifice and responsibility, but it is an honor and privilege.

If I were of the opposite sex, our sacrifice and responsibility would also come with great benefits and support systems. But because of DOMA and out-of-date Defense Department regulations, that is not possible for me. Among the benefits that I am not entitled to is traveling with my partner to another duty station when he gets transferred. No, we do not get the travel allowances that straight couples receive. We have to pay for that out of pocket. While heterosexual spouses get to be “command sponsored” to move with their spouse overseas, if Mitch gets stationed overseas, I will only get to see him once every 6 months, if I am lucky and we can afford it.

Some of the other benefits we are denied as a same-sex military family are:

· Extra pay to help with family members

· Access to military housing

· Commissary and exchange privileges

· Access to on-base family support programs and counseling services

· Education services, grants, and loans to military spouses and children that qualify to pursue higher education.

· Priority job placement within the federal government to the spouses of active duty. (Dependent spouses are at times given a higher preference than veterans in order to assist family members with employment because they so often have to quit their jobs to move to new duty stations).

The military affords these benefits to the spouses of active duty members because they realize that the Soldier, Marine, Sailor, or Airman will be able to perform their duties in a much more effective manner if that active duty member is able to concentrate on the mission. They realize that if that member of the Armed Services doesn’t have to worry about the welfare of their families, they will not be distracted from the tasks they are assigned.

Being a military spouse has many responsibilities. I make sure that his uniforms are pristine and ready at all times. I make sure that his sea bag is ready at all times for a possible deployment. I volunteer to help out with his command picnics and fundraisers. I bake things for their departmental “offsite” meetings. When Mitch is away from home, I am the one that takes care of the bills, the rent, and the pets. I make sure that when he is deployed that he knows without a doubt that all of the things that need to be taken care of at home are taken care of. You see I want to make sure he is concentrating on the mission at hand. I want this because I also know that if he is able to concentrate on his job, then he will more likely come home to me after a deployment.

I have done all of these things without access to the support and benefits from the military. I have done so without the extra pay or incentives. I have endured the hardships of separation from my loved one for months and even years without being recognized as my partner’s spouse, and for many years I have done so in silence and secrecy. I have served my country as many others have, in silence and secrecy, without any help. The emotional and psychological toll this takes on a person is huge.

Now that I am more mature and Mitch and I have had our eyes opened concerning the impact DOMA has on our lives, we realize now more than ever how important equality is. Same-sex military families should be given the same benefits, rights, and access to support and services that are afforded to everyone else. To deny us this, is not just inhumane, it is shameful.