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Guest Blog | #MyMilFam Advancing Equality for LGBT Service Members

Guest Bloggers:  Chris Dellamura & Aaron Austin

Imagine living your life as both participant and not-so-casual observer. That out-of-body experience is what it can be like to be a gay person in the military. In the days of “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell”, we lived life looking over our shoulders, for fear that we would lose our careers and our ability to serve our nation simply because of who we were and who we loved. Today, we look forward with wonder after the military responded to a revolutionary Supreme Court ruling and declared same-sex and mixed-sex marriages would be treated equally.

Suddenly, a military — historically received as a symbol of conservatism – is a catalyst for civil rights advance. Its response is more progressive than those of most states and well ahead of many countries around the world.

My husband, Chris, is a decorated Chief Warrant Officer 4 Black Hawk pilot, who was stationed at Fort Belvoir when we met seven years ago. I remember feeling this incredible sense of fear just to go grocery shopping with him at the commissary. If someone were to see us together would they then allege that Chris was gay and would that cost him his career?

It’s incredible how much has changed. We married last year and found ourselves instantly on the front line of progress. Just days after our wedding, DoD responded to the Supreme Court ruling striking down the so-called Defense of Marriage act (DOMA); it instituted sweeping policies that gave same-sex married couples access to housing allowances, spousal healthcare and more importantly, access to the many social support networks and services that come with being a part of the military family. Within weeks, I would be welcomed during a Hail and Farewell ceremony at Fort Benning, where Chris is an Instructor Pilot and Instrument Flight Examiner. I am now an active participant in the base Family Readiness Group.

Chris has served in the Army for 16 years. He notes he spent most of that time hiding who he was. He was acknowledged for his service, but the core of his identity was shunned.

Now, when it comes to these issues of social justice and civil rights, the military is a leader. It recognizes my marriage even though the state of Georgia where we live does not (yet). When we file taxes, we file a federal return as a married couple, but we’re forced to file as singles on our state returns. If we were not a military family, our marriage would be completely meaningless in the eyes of the law here in Georgia.

While I do totally celebrate the progress that we have made by repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and DOMA, it’s important that we are not complacent. We must continue the work to guarantee equality for LGBT service members. Sexual orientation is not a protected employment class such as race, nationality, gender or religion. Our LGBT service members can still face discrimination without the promise of consequence.

My father, grandfather and stepfather all enjoyed military careers. My husband’s grandfather served in World War II and my husband’s sister is a retired Air Force officer who rose from enlisted ranks. We and our families remain hopeful that the military will continue to advance change on behalf of its LGBT service members. If the last few years are any guide, we’re optimistic for the future.

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