The Fort Bragg Officer' Spouses' Club last week denied membership to a gay military spouse, sparking a firestorm of questions about how gay military spouses should be included in on-base activities, if at all.
The club, which is a private organization and not governed by the Defense Department, last week told Ashley Broadway, a gay spouse who married Lt. Col. Heather Mack in D.C. in November, that she is not permitted to join because she is not a DoD active-duty dependent ID card holder.
At the time of the denial, the club’s bylaws did not specify an active-duty ID as a membership requirement. Their website was updated Monday to reflect the new rule. “I truly, truly felt like things are changing and finally, after all of these years of standing in the corner and having to lie about being her sister or roommate, I see the tides turning” Broadway said. “When I received that denial it was like – whoa.”
Bragg Officers’ Spouses’ Club officials did not respond to Military.com’s repeated requests for comment before deadline.
Broadway and Mack have been a couple for 15 years. They have a toddler son together, and Heather is 8-months pregnant. Broadway holds a care-giver ID card and is able to use it to access post and shop at the commissary.
The OSC’s decision to change their rules to require an active-duty dependent ID feels like a slap in the face, Broadway said.
“To me it’s more of a personal thing -- someone can meet at the bar on Sunday, get married on Monday and on Tuesday they are military dependent,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’m basically a glorified nanny.”
Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, same sex couples are not recognized by the DoD as legally married. But spouse clubs are considered private organizations and are not required to abide by that law. And since the repeal of the law known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell last year, same-sex spouses have been openly participating in a variety of on-base activities, including family readiness groups.
To operate on base, a spouse club’s constitutions and bylaws must be regularly reviewed and approved by base officials. And while no guidance on clubs’ inclusion of same-sex spouses is known to have been handed down by any base command, clubs are expected to abide by non-discrimination rules, which prohibit the exclusion of potential members based on criteria such as rank, a Bragg public affairs official said.
Bragg Judge Advocate General’s officials are in the process of reviewing the OSC’s rule change to ensure it does not violate anti-discrimination rules, sources told Military.com. If it does, the club’s charter to operate on post could be pulled, forcing the club to operate off post or shutter, the sources said.
Spouse clubs -- both those exclusive to specific ranks and those open to all spouses -- are governed by rules and regulations written and approved by each club individually. While some clubs, such as the Army Officers’ Wives’ Club Greater Washington Area and the Fort Knox Spouses and Community Club, have long restricted membership to legal dependents only according to their websites, others hold no such rule.
Bragg isn’t the only installation facing the question of whether same-sex partners should gain access to the clubs. The Little Rock Spouses’ Club on Little Rock Air Force Base in September denied membership to same-sex spouse Tanisha Ward, claiming that she must have an active-duty ID card to join.
Their website, however, states that their membership “is open to spouses of officers, enlisted, retirees, and civilian personnel working at Little Rock Air Force Base.” Neither retiree nor civilian spouses hold active-duty ID cards.
“I was pretty upset -- I really didn’t know how to respond to it, so I kind of left it alone,” Ward said. “I hope they’ll change their mind. Or, at least if not extend membership to me, extend it to someone else in the future -- because I’m not 100 percent sure I want to be in the club anymore.”
Christine Daugherty, the Little Rock Spouses’ Club president, said their website is incorrect and reflects a rule that was changed in 2011. She said because most events are held on base and the club cannot issue passes, their current bylaws require all members to have a DoD ID. She said most events are open to the public, including non-ID card holders, and only one recent event -- the Christmas luncheon -- has been exclusive to members.
“In response to this individual's request, the club is currently reviewing our Constitution to see what changes we can make to best meet the needs of all military spouses,” she said.
Followers of the Little Rock club’s Facebook page seemed surprised by the club’s current rule.
“That's SICK!!! I don't care who she's married to. Some people are so ignorant!!” one follower wrote.
“Some people are so shallow,” wrote another.
Clubs’ blocking of same-sex couples could be caused by a misunderstanding of how federal marriage laws apply to on-base, non DoD organizations, said one former Officer Spouse’s Club board member who asked that her name not be used.
“I don't think the OSC should discriminate against anyone, especially since the military allows gays,” she said.
But not all clubs have chosen to block same-sex spouses. A board member who oversees the rules for the Combined Spouses’ Club at Goodfellow Air Force base said they would welcome same-sex partners, and may even have some as members now and not even know it. The Goodfellow club has the same membership requirement as those advertised online by the club at Little Rock.
“We never thought it was something that specifically needs to be addressed – it’s not a big deal,” said Rachel Preen, the club’s parliamentarian. “We don’t ask who their spouse is in our application form, we don’t ask when they got married, we don’t ask to see a copy of your ID. As long as you pay your dues, fill out the form and turn up with an appetizer to the event, you're in.”