The first general officer to come out as gay following the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2011 says the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country makes "a positive difference in many service members' lives" for practical and heartfelt reasons.
"The practical impact is uniformity in the recognition of family," Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith told Miltary.com. "The heartfelt impact is that every family matters, regardless of who you marry." Smith, who married Tracey Hepner in 2012 at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, was at Brooks Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, as the keynote speaker marking Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month when she received word on Friday that the high court made same-sex marriage the law of the land.
Smith paused long enough to ask her wife -- a woman who had to remain invisible before the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- up to the podium while she announced the high court's ruling and read a portion of it.
"Everyone rose to their feet," Tracey Hepner told Military.com in an email. There were "hugs ... tears ... applause. What an unforgettable moment to come from a place of invisibility to standing beside my wife at a military pride event and ‘together' announcing history."
"We celebrate the ruling and LGBT Pride Month because our families are recognized," Smith said.
Until the court ruled in the case, service members in same-sex marriages saw their marriages unrecognized in more than a dozen states.
Within the Defense Department, marriage recognition has been in place since Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said Friday.
"The [DoD] has made the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, as long as service member-sponsors provide a valid marriage certificate," he said.
The gathering Smith addressed in San Antonio was one of a number of LGBT Pride events held at military installations this past month.
At a pride observance in Norfolk, Va., on June 16, Navy Yeoman 2nd Class David Olvera said there have been "tremendous strides in the armed forces and throughout the country in regards to LGBT equality."
"The goal of our presentation is to help educate and raise awareness on major issues, both past and present that members of the LGBT community have faced," he said.
June was selected as LGBT Pride Month because it was in June 1969 that police descended on Stonewall, a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood, to arrest patrons and employees. The raid, which turned violent and led to major protests and police confrontations, is considered the start of the gay rights movement.
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