Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two constitution-based arguments. The first concerns whether the Constitution requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The second argument questions whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state.
To our families in the American Military Partner Association, this is as important a day as the June of 2013 when the Supreme Court dismantled one part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). At the time, DOMA defined marriage for the federal government as “between one man and one woman.” Once the Supreme Court ruled that definition unconstitutional, our military families became recognized as such. The newly legal spouses of the brave men and women serving our country were always among the ones that held down the home front, but now they would be supported just as any other military family is.
Or is it that simple?
Contrary to popular belief DOMA was not truly “struck down” that day. Sure, half of the law was ruled unconstitutional. But the concept itself didn't leave completely -- it just got weaker. The second part of DOMA, the part that stayed, declared that states did not have to recognize a same-sex marriage that was performed in a different state – that the same-sex marriages performed in equality states did not have to abide by the Constitutions’Full Faith and Credit Act.
So where did that leave our military families?
Although our families were now able to carry their government ID, receive Tricare, and be allowed all of the other spousal benefits afforded to their straight counterparts, they could not be sure they would PCS to a state that would recognize their marriage. They could not be sure they’d fall under the protection of state law should something happen to their significant other in an emergency off base. A death certificate issued by a non-equality state does not recognize dependants derived out of a same-sex relationship. They could not get married in a state where the military currently placed them. And they still can’t.
Additionally, veterans and their families are only eligible for spousal benefits afforded to married couples under specific conditions. If the state where the couple lived when they were married recognizes the marriage as legal, or the state where the couple lived when the veteran’s right to benefits began recognizes the marriage as legal, then the VA recognizes their marriage. Unfortunately, many couples live in non-recognition states and are required to travel to other states in order to get married. As a result, many veterans and their families are denied access to the benefits they earned as service members – educational benefits, home loan benefits, burial benefits, and even service-connected disability benefits.
The American Military Partner Association blog showcases every day stories from our LGBT families, active, reserve, and veteran, and many of them discuss these seemingly trivial issues.
But they aren't trivial. They're scary . The basic protections afforded to all straight married couples offer a piece of mind that may not be recognized by those already afforded these protections.
The arguments in front of the Supreme Court today bring hope to many military families – those directly affected by the results, and our many allies who have supported and fought for our protections by our side.
There are a few ways the Supreme Court could rule on this issue. They could decided whether or not states may ban same-sex marriage and whether or not states may deny recognizing the marriage of a same-sex couple that was lawfully married in another state. They could also rule to send the issue back to the states and make the voters in those areas decide.
Regardless of the Court's ruling, which is expected by late June, the arguments today and decision process will have big impact on military families.
In addition to teaching high school English in Lexington, Massachusetts, Lauren Lamoly works as the Director of Communications with the all-volunteer team at the American Military Partner Association to advance AMPA's mission, and to share LGBT military family stories for educational outreach.