DADT Repeal: How the Gay Rights Victory Will Bolster Support for Same Sex Marriage


The perfect success in repealing the U.S. military’s DADT (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) policy one year ago now is helping promote marriage equality, as the successful end of DADT has exposed many other ways in which federal law penalizes same-gender couples.

Prior to DADT repeal, a few people claimed that open service would reduce enlistment, ruin military culture, cause assaults and murders among service personnel, and leave the country defenseless. Today, one year after DADT repeal, experience has proven that all those threats were false figments of bigoted imaginations.

“One Year Out”, a new study from the Palm Center and U.S. military professors, certifies that DADT repeal has had no negative impact in the areas of military recruiting, readiness, cohesion, morale, harassment, crime, or retention. The Palm Center is a research branch of the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles Law School, and an official unit of the Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Contrary to popular assumption, however, federal discrimination against military personnel did not end when DADT was repealed.

Because of four federal laws, same-gender spouses are still treated as though they and their marriages don’t even exist. The 1996 DOMA (Defense-of-Marriage Act) cuts military (active duty, reserve, and veteran) pay and benefits by up to 40% for personnel with a same-gender spouse (275 active/reserve benefits, and 93 veteran benefits).

In addition, in the U.S. Code, Title 10 (active duty benefits), Title 32 (National Guard benefits), and Title 38 (veteran benefits) prohibit the military from paying legally married same-gender couples with equal compensation, including: housing, groceries, medical/dental/optical/health care, relocation, spouse employment assistance, spouse education, separation, joint duty assignment, legal services, ID cards, base access, recreation programs, support groups, veteran benefits, and burial rights. Throughout a military career and a military retirement, those lifetime benefits add up to a small (but significant) fortune.

Military personnel suffering such pay cuts have filed four lawsuits in California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Two of those suits are still in federal district courts. One has advanced to a federal appeals court, and one has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

In fact, the repeal of DADT exposed a parallel situation for LGBT individuals as regards marriage equality.

Lesbians, bisexuals, and gays now can legally serve in the military. They also can marry in states that allow same-gender marriage. However, just as federal laws penalize same-gender military couples with reduced pay and benefits, federal law also penalizes all legally married same-gender couples by withholding 1,138 federal rights and responsibilities which are available only to opposite-gender couples.

Here are just 22 of the rights that federal law most commonly denies to LGBT couples:

1. joint parenting

The thoroughly successful repeal of DADT contrasts starkly against the enormously unfair status of legally married same-gender couples both military and civilian. That obvious unfairness is now helping advance the fight for marriage equality in three major ways.

Firstly, just as the DOMA calls attention to the unfair pay cuts for all military same-gender couples, DOMA also calls attention to the denial of 1,138 rights for all same-gender American couples.

Secondly, although military personnel can no longer be fired just for being lesbian, bisexual, or gay, civilians in 29 states can still get legally fired for those exact reasons.

Thirdly, an American citizen with a foreign national spouse can sponsor that spouse for residency and citizenship, except when the spouses are the same gender.

Most Americans (51% to 41%) now support same-gender couples and marriage equality, according the latest poll results. What is most stunning about the recent figure from the New York Times/CBS News is the fact that popular support for gay marriage increased so rapidly after DADT was repealed only one year ago.

Nevertheless, unfair laws and old stigma continue to carry extra burdens for LGBT Americans, as outlined in An Ally’s Guide to Issues Facing LGBT Americans, a recent study conducted by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Log Cabin Republicans, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), National Stonewall Democrats, and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

And LGBT people continue to be threatened. Marriage Equality USA's Political Party Plans Affecting LGBTs identifies 12 ways in which the recently adopted Republican Party platform officially vows to oppress all LGBT Americans by expanding the current unfairness even further. 

The now discredited arguments against open military service — personnel shortage, poor morale, and unpreparedness for battle — all arose from military superstition, were rooted in social bigotry, and had no scientific basis. Likewise, the arguments against marriage equality — human race extinction, ruination of straight marriages, disadvantages to children — still arise from superstition, bigotry, and junk science.

Repealing DADT didn’t just improve the U.S. military itself — it clearly illustrated the unfairness of federal laws that affect civilians too.

So, despite the plans of some old-school Republicans, the Tea Party hangers-on, and most Dominionist evangelical Protestants, over the next few years the pending legislation and litigation will eventually clear the last of the anti-LGBT cobwebs from federal law. Once that happens, a second celebration over the repeal of DADT will be in order.