Larger issue of discrimination against gay soldiers remains

October 19, 2011

(Washington, D.C.) – The Department of Defense has clarified regulations that will allow Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard to bring her same-sex partner to a yellow ribbon family reintegration event in North Conway this weekend, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen announced today.

“This is terrific news for Charlie Morgan and her family,” said Shaheen, who yesterday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking him to get personally involved in the case. “But this is just one small part of a much larger problem. We have a fundamental inequity in our policy, which has created two classes of soldiers. It isn’t fair and it has to end.”

The Guard and the Department of Defense said today that gay and lesbian service members may take advantage of a regulation that allows service members to designate any one person, regardless of relationship, to join them at a yellow ribbon event.

Chief Morgan recently returned from deployment in Kuwait and was forbidden from bringing her partner of 11 years, Karen Morgan, to a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event in North Conway this weekend even though the couple is legally joined in a civil union.  The event is part of an official program designed to help returning soldiers and their families deal with the transition to life back home. Senator Shaheen’s office raised concerns on behalf of Morgan with local Guard officials in recent weeks. After Guard officials said they were hamstrung by federal regulations, Shaheen sent a letter to Secretary Panetta, asking him to get personally involved.

Gay and lesbian members of the military have only been able to openly acknowledge their relationships in the last year, after Congress voted last December to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

The decision to exclude same-sex couples from the yellow ribbon event was based on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the extension of military benefits to same sex couples, and on federal military regulations interpreting that law. Shaheen’s letter to Panetta asked him to do all he can under the confines of the law to make same-sex couples and their families eligible for family centered programs like this weekend’s event, and other family benefits available to straight married couples, such as joint duty assignments and military family housing.

Shaheen is also cosponsor of a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. The Respect for Marriage Act (S. 598) would allow same-sex couples whose marriage is recognized by a state, such as New Hampshire, to receive the same treatment under federal law as straight married couples.

“Ultimately, this conflict in our military policy is not sustainable,” Shaheen said. “We cannot ask the members of our military to live under different standards depending on whether they are gay or straight. I urge the military to do all it can under the law to promote equality in their regulations, and I urge Congress to join me in the fight to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.” 

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