The Department of Defense announced this week that, in addition to extending benefits to same sex couples who are legally married, it will also allow homosexual service members who want to get married seven to 10 days of uncharged leave in order to travel to a state that allows same sex marriage. The announcement met was met with criticism by those who say that this goes beyond fairness and instead penalizes traditional marriage.
According to the DoD, the extra leave simply levels the playing field for gay and lesbian service members by allowing them to travel to one of the 13 states in the country that will marry a same sex couple. But critics say that by offering uncharged leave amounts to the DoD offering service members “homosexual honeymoons.”
Critics point to the fact that there are many heterosexual service members who must overcome hardships in order to marry their partner, such as traveling for their own weddings when stationed far from home, and they do not get extra leave for that. They say that it amounts to the DoD discriminating against service members who are not gay.
While the DoD dismisses the claim, and says that the policy will “provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married,” many are not convinced. Comment boards are alight with comments from current and former service members who say that when they wanted to marry, they had to use their regular leave to do it, even when faced with hardships and that same sex couples should have to do the same.
In addition, the DoD will begin offering full benefits to same sex spouses no later than Sept. 3. This means that same sex spouses would get full medical benefits as well as the service member receiving a housing allowance, subsistence allowance and spouses would also be eligible for life insurance.
Like many polarizing issues, those in favor of the ruling say that those opposed to it are simply “homophobic,””whiners,” or “hater,” but really the issue isn’t that the couple is gay, but that they are receiving special treatment because they are gay. Many in the military, particularly those with strict religious values, are still unhappy about the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, so this is just like pouring salt in a festering wound.
Then there is the issue of military chaplains performing same sex marriages. While the DoD says that chaplains will not be penalized for refusing to marry same sex couples based upon their faith, many are still worried. This could be particularly problematic in areas where there are fewer chaplains, making it difficult, if not impossible, to refer the couple to another chaplain who may be able to marry them, as the policy currently directs.
To be clear, the argument isn’t about allowing gay and lesbian service members to marry. It’s about giving them extra leave to do so, leave that isn’t available to heterosexual members of the military who also face hardships in getting married. At what point does the pendulum swing too far? When does equality turn into discrimination against those with more traditional beliefs? The military may be looking at it with this leave policy.