SHAHEEN: GAY SOLDIER’S FAMILY SHOULD GET SAME RIGHTS AS OTHER FAMILIES

October 18, 2011

(Washington, D.C.) – In a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is urging the Department of Defense in the strongest terms to end a discriminatory policy that bans the same-sex spouses of returning National Guard Members from participating in official National Guard family events.

Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard, recently returned from deployment in Kuwait, has been forbidden from bringing her same-sex spouse of 11 years, Karen Morgan, to a yellow ribbon event in North Conway this weekend.  The event is part of an official military reintegration program, designed to help returning soldiers and their families deal with the transition back to life in the United States. In recent weeks, Senator Shaheen’s office has raised concerns on behalf of Morgan with local Guard officials, but they are hamstrung by federal regulations. Today Shaheen asked Panetta to get personally involved.

 “We made the decision as a nation that it was time to allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in our military,” Shaheen said. “It makes no sense to ask them for the same sacrifice we ask of straight soldiers while denying them the same benefits. We are better than this.”

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 today asks 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.

“We have told our fighting men and women that if they serve, we will honor that service with the support it deserves,” Shaheen said. “We cannot break that commitment. We cannot go back on our word. Gay and lesbian families deserve to be treated the same as any other military family, and they deserve the right to participate in this event.”

To read Morgan’s interview with the Portsmouth Herald about the situation, click here: http://bit.ly/nTUrdx

The Senator’s letter to Secretary Panetta is attached below:

October 18, 2011

The Honorable Leon Panetta

Secretary of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1000


Dear Secretary Panetta, 

The repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” which allowed men and women in the United States military to serve openly, regardless of sexual orientation, was an important development in our nation’s civil rights history, and I commend the Department of Defense (DOD) on its commitment toward successful implementation.  Despite the progress achieved, I remain concerned over a variety of lingering inequalities facing same-sex military families. 

In early August, Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard (NHNG) contacted my office to assist her in determining, following the repeal of DADT, whether or not her civil union spouse would be permitted to attend a mandatory Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP) event this coming weekend.  As you know, YRRP is a DOD program designed to assist National Guard members and their families with the unique challenges of transition from active-duty military deployment to civilian life and work.  Earlier this week I was informed by the NHNG that despite CWO Morgan’s requirement to attend, according to current DOD policy her spouse is unauthorized to accompany her.

Though DOD’s policy may have been consistent with DADT requirements, given the repeal of DADT, I urge you to immediately end its practice and allow same sex couples to participate in all future DOD family events.  Department of Defense family events, particularly the YRRP, often provide critical information and training to family members regarding the symptoms and effects of various combat-related injuries, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain injury (TBI).  Denying same-sex spouses the chance to attend DOD family events not only violates basic equality standards, it could also have real negative effects on service member health and safety.

I recognize that the Department faces certain limitations with respect to benefits for same-sex couples pursuant to the National Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  However, I concur with the findings of the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network that that there are numerous actions the Department has the authority to take in the near term that are both consistent with current law and would address many of the challenges same-sex couples continue to face, including access to DOD family events.

I appreciate your urgent consideration of this issue and I thank you for your continued service on behalf of our men and women in uniform. 

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen

United States Senator 

Press Contact

Press Office, (202) 224-5553