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Same-sex military couples still face obstacles

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The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) was a progressive step for the military community, but for the families, couples and individuals most affected, it was just the first step.

Fort Bragg spouse Ashley Broadway's name has been splashed across headlines for the past month; despite being married to a Servicemember, Broadway was denied full membership in the Association of Bragg Officers' Spouses (ABOS) and she publically questioned their decision.

"We had Ashley write the open letter on our website so that people would understand what was happening," explained Lauren Lamoly, Director of Communications for the American Military Partner Association (AMPA). "This situation has helped to get this issue out there - and not to just make a lot of noise, but to share our stories and get hopefully something done."

AMPA, which was founded in 2009, bills itself as the nation's premier network for the partners and spouses of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Servicemembers. It is run entirely by volunteers who are working to effect changes in both federal laws and Department of Defense policies. Broadway currently serves as AMPA's Director of Family Affairs.

"I had never inquired about becoming a member of a group like that (spouses' club) because life got in the way," Broadway joked, alluding to her career, her wife Lt. Col. Heather Mack's deployments and the births of their two children.

"Although I'd felt like a military spouse, now I finally was and I wanted to learn the ropes," she said, referencing how she and Mack had married following the DADT repeal after being together for 15 years. "I read their bylaws and didn't see an issue with my applying. The application does not stipulate that you needed an ID card."

Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which forbids the federal government from recognizing any marriage unless it is between a man and a woman, Broadway is unable to obtain an ID card despite her marital status. After her second request, ABOS offered Broadway a partial membership.

"They never cited that it was because I wasn't an ID card holder. The way they handled it felt like discrimination at that point because I was gay," Broadway said. "It hurt because the only difference between myself and them is that my spouse is the same sex as me."

However, within hours of the announcement that Broadway was the 2012 Fort Bragg Military Spouse of the Year, ABOS extended an offer for full membership and issued a second release, which stated that ABOS would deem all military officer spouses eligible for full membership so long as he or she had ‘a valid marriage certificate from any state or district in the United States.'

Though Broadway hasn't accepted yet, she plans to in order to ‘prove that my family is really just like everyone else's.'

It would seem that the powers that be are following suit; on Feb. 11, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that while DOMA is still being upheld, they would be extending some benefits to same-sex military couples, including privileges in commissaries, dependent ID cards and participation in family groups. According to the memo, the military will have 60 days to determine how to implement these changes.

Yet for others, the challenge still lies in even becoming a spouse. AC2 Sean Kirkpatrick has been engaged to Giuseppe Catanzaro, an Italian national, for seven months and this fall, Kirkpatrick will transition from active duty to the Selected Reserves as part of the Early Career Transition Program.

"I leave Sicily in November," stated Kirkpatrick, who is stationed at Naval Air Station Sigonella. "So there is a high chance that I will have to leave him behind until his visa is processed. Additionally, because he is a local national, the rule is that my command has to approve and give me authorization to marry him. The decision is still pending...though it doesn't look good."

While the couple has also looked into student or work visas, Catanzaro is not eligible for either at this time, leaving marriage as the best option even though that requires a K-1 Fiancé Visa, which he cannot be approved for under DOMA. Not to mention, there can be a 10-month processing period for the K-1 Fiancé Visa - hence why Kirkpatrick wants to have everything ready to move forward.

"Now we just wait in limbo and every time I have to sponsor him onto base, it's a reminder," Kirkpatrick said. "My request to marry Giuseppe was submitted three weeks ago and we haven't heard anything yet, although requests are normally finished and returned within 10 business days."

Staff Sgt. (P) Jennifer Brewster and her partner Meredith Rice are also familiar with problems that opposite-sex couples don't seemingly face.

"It is insulting in the aspect that we had these kids and were raising them as a family, but we still had to have Jennifer adopt them in order for TriCARE and DEERS to recognize them as her kids," explained Rice, who has 7-year-old twins and a toddler with Brewster. Since Rice carried the children, a second parent adoption, which took close to six months to process and cost more than $6500 in out-of-pocket fees, was required.

Of course prior to the DADT repeal, Rice and Brewster had even more obstacles, from living their family life in secret to the fact that Brewster was only entitled to a single Soldier's BAH and PCS compensations. Luckily, with their children now covered, Rice only had to pay for her own airfare when they PCS'd to Schofield Barracks last year...but there are still hurdles.

Due to extensive health issues, their youngest daughter must be routinely seen at Tripler Army Medical Center and since Rice doesn't have an ID card, Brewster must often leave her job to accompany them to appointments. While Rice is technically eligible for a caretaker ID card that allows her to take the children to appointments, bring them on post to MWR events and more...the Army has yet to issue one, despite the family's half a dozen requests.

"We haven't had many negative experiences, but what frustrates us is more the lack of positive experiences," Rice explained, who confirmed that she and Brewster have no intention of marrying since same-sex unions are not legal in Hawaii.

"Honestly we feel like its worth the wait to fight it out for full marriage equality for all, we feel like anything less would be tantamount to accepting crumbs from the government, like we're separate, but not equal," Rice concluded. "I understand the length of time it took to repeal DADT, but I really hoped that when they finally did it, there'd be more things in place, and that's still a work in progress."

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