Gay Servicemembers Challenge DOMA in Federal Court

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday October 27, 2011

A group of gay and lesbian servicemembers and veterans filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in federal court in Boston on Thursday, Oct. 27.

The eight plaintiffs, who have 159 years of military service between them, maintain that DOMA specifically prohibits the military from offering their spouses the same family support and benefits that married heterosexual servicemembers automatically receive. These include on-base housing, health care, survivor benefits and burial rights at national cemeteries.

"The case we are bringing today is about one thing, plain and simple: It's about justice for gay and lesbian servicemembers and their families," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Oct. 27. "These couples are in long-term, committed and legally recognized marriages and the military shouldn't be forced to turn their back on them because the federal government refuses to recognize their families."

Among the plaintiffs is Capt. Steve Hill, an Army reservist who is stationed in Iraq who submitted a YouTube question about the end of the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers during a Republican presidential candidate debate in Florida last month.

Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan returned to New Hampshire from Kuwait in August where she lives with her wife Karen Morgan and their four-year-old daughter. A full-time officer with the New Hampshire National Guard, Charlie Morgan was recently diagnosed with breast cancer after a recurrence. She pointed out that her inability to obtain a military identification card prevents her from taking her daughter on base to take advantage of the facilities and other services that other married couples receive.

"We're just looking to receive the same benefits and opportunities as our married heterosexual counterparts," said Charlie Morgan as her wife stood by her side. "Time may not be on our side."

The repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' became official on Sept. 20, but SLDN and other groups continue to stress that the end of the Clinton-era law is an important first step towards remedying long-standing inequalities against gay and lesbian servicemembers.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit a week before the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to debate a bill that would repeal DOMA. The White House announced earlier this year that it would no longer defend the Clinton-era statute, but House Republicans continue to back the law.

Retired Capt. Joan Darrah of Alexandria, Va., was a naval intelligence officer until she retired from the Navy in 2002. Seven of her colleagues died in the room in which she had been working in the Pentagon moments before American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the building on Sept. 11, 2001. Under DADT, Darrah said her partner of nearly 20 years, Lynne Kennedy, would not have been notified of her death.

"Finally we repealed 'don't ask, don't tell,'... but we're not there yet," said Darrah. "Lynne and I are proud to join this suit as we work towards bringing full equality to gay and lesbian servicemembers."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.