by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
A week after President Obama announced his support for ending marriage discrimination against same-sex couples, Freedom to Marry and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) announced Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry, a new national campaign that will highlight the stories of military families harmed by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
According to SLDN and Freedom to Marry officials, the campaign launched with the release of an online video illustrating the 'real injury inflicted on Gay and Lesbian military families who, because of the federal government's refusal to respect their marriages legally, are denied the support and protections that all other military families receive.'
Last week, the president described how the stories of service members and their families had influenced his decision to support the freedom to marry. Indeed, the faces and stories of military families impacted by the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act illustrate the unjust ways this law treats our nation's most courageous patriots.
'It's unconscionable that we would ask American citizens to put their lives on the line for us in war zones while treating them and their families as second-class citizens at home,' said Army veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. 'All service members and their families provide the same service, take the same risks, and make the same sacrifices. When it comes to recognition, support, and benefits, they must all be treated equally. There cannot be two classes of service members.'
Because of the 'Gay exception' created by DOMA, America's legally married Gay and Lesbian couples are denied more than 1,100 federal responsibilities and protections, including Social Security survivors' benefits, equal treatment under U.S. immigration laws, and the opportunity to take leave to care for a spouse.
'Many people assume that, with the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' Gay men and Lesbians serving our country are now being treated fairly and equally, but that's not the case. We ended the ban on open military service for Gay and Lesbian Americans, but there is still a federal ban on treating married service members as what they are: married,' said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry.
'The so-called Defense of Marriage Act's 'Gay exception' keeps the government in the business of discriminating against families, such as those of service members, and burdening employers, such as the military, who are prevented from treating their employees fairly and equally,' he said.
The Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry campaign will include video and other multimedia content spotlighting the ways DOMA harms military families, including the denial of health insurance, survivor benefits, and access to military bases and housing for service members' spouses. Additionally, the campaign will invite the public to sign an online petition calling on Congress to 'end this discriminatory and unequal treatment of our service members and veterans' by repealing DOMA.
In October 2011, SLDN filed landmark litigation on behalf of eight married Gay and Lesbian service members and veterans, challenging DOMA and three other federal statutes that may be interpreted to prevent the military from providing the same protections and support to all families.
Freedom to Marry's federal program works to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and make the case for marriage to government officials, opinion leaders, and political operatives in Washington, D.C. Freedom to Marry is a leader of the Respect for Marriage Coalition, a diverse group of nearly 70 organizations working together to repeal DOMA. The coalition regularly hosts salons to engage Democratic, Republican, and independent opinion leaders and operatives in conversations about why marriage matters to same-sex couples. Since the introduction of the Respect for Marriage Act, the bill that would repeal DOMA, the number of co-sponsors has increased from 18 to 32 in the Senate, including every Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and from 108 to 144 in the House of Representatives.
For more information on Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry, visit www.freedomtomarry.org/serve.
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