Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks at a news conference on Nov. 29, 2012, at the Pentagon.
WASHINGTON — A group for military spouses in North Carolina is facing questions of exclusion and discrimination after telling a female servicemember’s lesbian wife that she wasn’t allowed to join the group.
Ashley Broadway published a letter Monday at the website of the American Military Partner Association stating that, despite being married to Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack, she was told by a representative of the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses that she did “not qualify” for membership.
The group’s official reason for barring Broadway from joining was her lack of a military ID card — something only available currently to opposite-sex military spouses. But a review of the group’s previously published bylaws, provided to BuzzFeed, contains no mention of an ID requirement. And it wasn’t until after Broadway published her letter that the group added any mention of an “active ID card” requirement to its website.
Broadway told BuzzFeed that the different treatment made no sense to her and said it especially stung given how long she had to keep her relationship a secret under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“I think when I heard those words — I feel like I’ve been discriminated against for the 15 years that I’ve been with Heather because I met her, and she was in the Army,” she said. “I had to lie for so long, almost live two different lives. I could never really tell people, I couldn’t get married.”
She hoped that her November wedding, coupled with the military’s policy change allowing out gay service, would put an end to the couple’s hardships.
“I’ve been discriminated against because of the military, because of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but I just really had in my heart, had in my mind, that people were moving on from it,” she said, adding, “I was so proud to finally say, ‘We’re married.’”
Although organizations like OutServe-SLDN have repeatedly asked the Pentagon to expand benefits to include ID cards for same-sex spouses of servicemembers, the government has taken no action on the issue since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” nearly 15 months ago.
LGBT rights advocates have noted that even the Pentagon working group assigned to handle the issue has said dispensing ID cards to same-sex couples would not run afoul of the Defense of Marriage Act.
In June, outgoing Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson acknowledged that “[t]he repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ exposes certain inequalities between similarly situated couples in the military community,” adding that it “troubles many of our leaders.” Addressing the ongoing review of which benefits could be extended to gay and lesbian couples, he told this reporter, “It’s coming along. We’ll get it done.”
Broadway says that, though she isn’t sure of the association’s motives for denying her membership, she is seeing one of those “inequalities” at work.
“It’s probably hard to understand to someone who’s not in my shoes, but when they use those words, ‘you’re denied because you do not have a military ID,’ you’ve pierced our hearts,” Broadway said. “I really felt like I was second-class when they told me that.”
Allyson Robinson, the newly appointed executive director of OutServe-SLDN, said Tuesday afternoon that she intended to reach out to the commanding officer at Fort Bragg, Lt. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, to address the matter.
“The facts here are simple: there is no legal need or justification for any spouse to be excluded from a group like this, which exists to provide support to the spouses and families of our military men and women and the communities they serve,” Robinson said. “Though the organization operates on Ft. Bragg with permission from the Commanding General, the group is not formally affiliated with the military and is not required to bar membership to Ashley.”
She added, “In the absence of a reply from the Association, we are left with no option but to reach out to the base’s leadership. General Allyn needs to know if there is discrimination happening against the military families in his community.”
The Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed’s request for comment on Tuesday evening. The association has, however, made multiple changes to its website in recent days — including removing the last names of board members on Tuesday. The honorary president of the association, now listed simply as Debbie, is Debbie Allyn, the wife of commanding officer Allyn.
Pentagon spokespersons also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.