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OutServe Magazine | March 17, 2014

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DOD General Counsel reviews Fort Bragg Spouse Club Flap

DOD General Counsel reviews Fort Bragg Spouse Club Flap
David Small

Left: Ashley Broadway. Right: her wife, Lt.Col Heather Mack, and their son Carson

By David Small

After posting a response to an on-base club’s refusal to grant her membership, Ashley Broadway, wife of Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack, has been in the news, and now the Department of Defense General Counsel staffers are reviewing the situation.

While the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses at Fort Bragg, N.C., is a non-federal entity, they must adhere to certain DoD instructions if they want access to base facilities, according to Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, spokesman for the DoD General Counsel’s office. “This is the sole legal framework around which the Department and its agencies exercise control over non-federal entities,” he said.

The specific instruction in question, though, has some interpretation problems. While it includes a non-discrimination clause, it does not reference sexual orientation, despite other federal family readiness programs inclusiveness.

Department of Defense Instruction 1000.15 states, “No person because of race, color, creed, sex, age, disability or national origin shall be unlawfully denied membership, unlawfully excluded from participation or otherwise subjected to unlawful discrimination by any non-federal entity or private organization covered by this instruction.”

The Fort Bragg club’s bylaws do adhere to the DoD instruction, however according to BuzzFeed, after the controversy, the group added the requirement to have a dependent military ID card to be granted membership.

The Defense of Marriage Act does not prohibit issuing a military ID card to legally married, same-sex spouses, according to a formal request by OutServe-SLDN to Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, however the department has yet to respond.

According to the letter, “a military ID is required for on-base activities, and there is no statute preventing issuance of IDs to same-sex spouses. An ID would also allow the same-sex spouse to bring dependent children on base without being accompanied by the service member. The ability to bring a child to on-base services such as health care facilities is essential. Currently, DODI 1000.13 governs eligibility for ID cards, and should be updated to extend IDs to same-sex spouses.”

Other areas OutServe-SLDN have asked DoD to extend benefits to same-sex spouses include morale, welfare and recreation facilities, military family housing, commissary and exchange access, family programs, legal services, hospital visitation rights, joint duty assignments for dual-career military couples, exemptions from hostile-fire areas, command-sponsored dependent status and space-available travel, and spousal privilege in courts martial. 

“The Department is conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners,” spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen wrote in an email. “The benefits are being examined from a policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility perspective.”

That review has been ongoing since August 2011 when SLDN wrote Panetta. To date, DoD has refused to move on these suggestions and was unable to say where they were in the process of their review, or why it was taking more than a year.

“The Pentagon has dragged its feet on this issue for far too long, and it’s time for the Secretary to act. Situations like the one at Fort Bragg could be avoided if commanders were given the guidance they need to address these issues with consistency and equity. All it takes is the stroke of a pen,” said Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson.

“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,” she said.

Though the organization operates on Fort Bragg with permission from the commanding general, the group is not formally affiliated with the military and is not required to bar membership to Broadway under DOMA. As a private, non-profit organization not governed by laws that apply to the federal government, OutServe-SLDN has established that there is no legal basis that would require same-sex military spouses to be excluded from the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses.

 “With programs such as these, which are not bound by a federal definition of marriage, commanders at all levels should use their influence to ensure all service members’ families are treated equally,” said Robinson.

Broadway’s open letter to the president of the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses was posted Dec. 10 to the American Military Partner Association’s website. Broadway has been with Mack for 15 years and married Nov. 10.

Her letter also references a similar incident at Little Rock Air Force Base where Tanisha Ward, wife of deployed Airman 1st Class Hensley, was denied access to the Little Rock Air Force Base Spouse’s Club.

Robinson said there are many such organizations on bases across the U.S. and around the world where same-sex families have been included and welcomed since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in September 2011.

“Our Commander-in-Chief supports us; I was the first same-sex military spouse invited by the First Lady to attend her Mother’s Day Tea,” Broadway wrote. “We are a part of the face of this country’s future, and the White House, Pentagon, and many other posts are leaning forward to embrace this progression.”

While such clubs maintain their own charters, official family support programs, governed by Department of Defense instruction 1342.22, can support same-sex spouses and other unofficially sanctioned dependent family members.

This instruction states the family readiness system will “address the varied composition, cultural diversity, and demographics of service members and their families.”

“The Department knows that family support is critical to mission readiness and we value the service and sacrifices of each and every family member,” said Breasseale. “Unlike non-federal entities such as the various Officers’ Spouse Groups, the [Family Readiness System] is an officially sanctioned, service-governed entity that is inclusive of all family members identified by each individual service member, regardless of sexual orientation or marital status.”

According to a statement on the Fort Bragg club’s webpage, due to “recent interest in the membership requirements of our organization,” the club plans to discuss the issue at their next board meeting. “As an all-volunteer board during this busy holiday season, we request your patience in allowing us to properly address and review this membership issue while fulfilling our obligations to our current membership as well as to our families.” 

“‘Equality can wait’ has never been the answer, but that’s the message the club sent with this tepid and dismissive statement today,” Robinson said in a release today. “It’s certainly not the answer for Ashley Broadway or the families of gay and lesbian service members at Fort Bragg and on military installations across the country, who like all our men and women in uniform, need support during the holiday season perhaps more than any other time of the year. The group doesn’t need a meeting; Ashley clearly qualifies under its existing, approved bylaws. It simply needs to accept Ashley into its membership, and it should do so immediately.”