"When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is gone, because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage...it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."President Barack Obama, May 9, 2012
It was indeed an historic moment May 9 when President Obama linked the freedom for all to serve with the freedom for all to marry, whatever their gender, whatever their orientation. Although proponents of marriage equality are in an increasing majority, it took more than moral conviction for the president to make that heartfelt statement; considering the polarized state of the nation today and the clamor of the opposition, it took political courage.
Consider that North Carolina, on May 8, voted by a 22-percent margin for a constitutional amendment that would ban not only same sex couples from marrying but also ban all civil unions and domestic partnerships, same sex or opposite sex. Its ramifications would extend to cases of domestic violence and child custody, end-of-life issues, and more. What makes it even more absurd is that gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina. But I guess you can't be too careful.
The situation as it stands in our country today is untenable. In North Carolina, two gay soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg who want to get married and commit themselves to each other are unable to do so.
Yet the same two soldiers, should they be transferred to Fort Drum in New York State, could marry and have that marriage recognized by the state. Unfortunately, though legally married in New York, their marriage will still not be recognized by the Pentagon nor will they receive the same benefits other married military couples receive. Why not? Because the so-called Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) prohibits it.
Without the president's extraordinary leadership, there would have been no repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ( DADT ) . Working for repeal allowed the president to get to know more of our gay and lesbian service members and their families, to hear their stories and the challenges they faced and still face. They helped persuade the president that it was time to bring about the end of DADT.
Today, the president, his attorney general and the secretary of defense are fully aware of the constitutional case that the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) has brought on behalf of several legally married service members and veterans. We are fighting in court to overturn DOMA and assure that gay and lesbian married military couples receive the same benefits from the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs that their married straight comrades take for granted.
On May 9, the president connected the dots between repeal of DADT and marriage equality, underscoring the impact of gay and lesbian service members in the ongoing marriage equality debate.
Those gay and lesbian service members whose stories the president heard, who were discriminated against and kicked out of their jobs because of their sexual orientation, will be heard and seen again in the debate on Capitol Hill and in the courts as the fight for marriage equality escalates.
I fail to see how we can embrace and thank these patriots for their military service and sacrifice and yet deny them the fundamental right to marry the person they love. I think the president doesn't see it, either.
Aubrey Sarvis is a U.S. Army veteran and executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.