A lesbian wife of a Fort Bragg soldier was named the installation's military spouse of the year through a voting competition.
Ashley Broadway is not recognized as a spouse under federal law, and she recently was denied official membership in a Fort Bragg officers' spouses organization.
But her selection in the competition by Military Spouse magazine was praised by advocates for gays and lesbians, who say it underscores the need for the federal government to extend full benefits to same-sex couples.
Broadway, the wife of Lt. Col. Heather Mack of Fort Bragg's 1st Theater Sustainment Command, will represent Fort Bragg in the 2013 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year competition.
Broadway will be pitted against winners from other Army installations.
Online voting on Feb. 5 at msoy.militaryspouse.com will decide who will be the Army-wide spouse of the year.
That person will compete against winners from the five other service branches for the national title.
The military is not involved in the competition, though spouses of top Pentagon leaders help pick the national winner.
Broadway garnered national media attention because of a dispute with the Association of Bragg Officers' Spouses, which has barred Broadway from being a full member of the organization. Though gays and lesbians have been allowed to serve openly for more than a year, the military remains bound by the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. The law bars same-sex couples from some military benefits, and couples say they are banned from some military programs.
The American Military Partner Association, a support network for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military families, praised Broadway's selection. Broadway is a member of the organization, which has supported her throughout her dispute with the spouses club.
"Considering the amount of hard work, volunteer time and invaluable assistance that she has dedicated to helping all military families over the years, in addition to the unwavering support she has provided to her wife on active duty and their children, no one deserves this recognition more than Ashley Broadway," said AMPA's president, Stephen Peters.
The Army-wide and military-wide winners will be selected through a combination of popular vote and the decision of judges who include representatives from the magazine, Armed Forces Insurance and the wives of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Judges' criteria include contributions to community change, volunteer efforts, personal sacrifice, professional pursuits, goals and efforts to support the military community, according to the magazine.
Babette Maxwell, executive editor of Military Spouse, said Broadway and other installation winners are a "true representation of what the military spouse community has to offer."
"All of the winners have extraordinary accomplishments and achievements," Maxwell said.
Peters said the award also highlights the discrepancies in how same-sex military spouses are treated when compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
Broadway "is still denied military benefits, official recognition from the Defense Department, and even a full membership to the post's main officers' spouses club," Peters said.
Broadway has been in a relationship with Mack for more than 15 years. Most of that time was during don't ask, don't tell, the policy that allowed gays to serve in the military if they were not open about their sexual orientation.
"For over 13 years, I had to stay hidden, unable to send my loved one off to war, attend welcome-home celebrations, or receive invites from the (family readiness group)," Broadway said in a statement on the competition's website. "Yes, my marriage is both unique and rare in our military community. I am a proud same-sex spouse of an Army officer and mother of an amazing son."
Broadway could not be reached Friday for comment.
Broadway's recognition underscores how out of touch many military leaders are with military communities, said Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, formerly known as the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
"It is past time for the Pentagon to catch up and honor the service and sacrifice of all military families," Robinson said.
Winners for the Army-wide competition will be announced Feb. 21, with national voting March 5.