(Washington, D.C.) Today, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) announced the filing of landmark federal litigation, suing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, on behalf of current and former service members seeking equal recognition, benefits and family support for equal sacrifice and service in the U.S. Armed Forces. The plaintiffs, each legally married, want the armed services to recognize their families and seek the same family support and benefits for their same-sex spouses that the services and Department of Veterans Affairs provide to opposite-sex spouses.
The case, filed in the District of Massachusetts, challenges the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as provisions in Title 10, Title 32, and Title 38 of U.S. Code, which preclude the military from providing same-sex married couples with the same benefits and family support as their straight, married peers.
"This case is about one thing, plain and simple. It's about justice for gay and lesbian service members and their families in our armed forces rendering the same military service, making the same sacrifices, and taking the same risks to keep our nation secure at home and abroad," said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. "These couples are in long term, committed, and legally recognized marriages, and the military should not be forced to turn its back on them because the federal government refuses to recognize their families."
Together, the plaintiffs represent 159 years of military service; serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy and National Guard; and as couples, have been together for a total of 79 years.
"We've been serving our country too long, working too hard, and sacrificing too much to see our families denied the same recognition, support and benefits as our straight, married counterparts," said lead plaintiff, Major Shannon McLaughlin of the Massachusetts National Guard. McLaughlin and her spouse, Casey, are the parents of ten month old twins, Grace and Grant.
Currently, federal law requires the military to ignore these marriages and, therefore, prevents it from providing vitally needed benefits to these legally married spouses, including housing; health care; surviving spouse benefits; the issuance of military identification cards; and morale, welfare, and recreational programs. These inequities were recently spotlighted when Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard, announced today as a plaintiff in this case, was forced to seek intervention from elected officials and the Pentagon in order for her spouse, a part-time special education teacher, to be permitted to attend a yellow-ribbon reintegration ceremony following CW2 Morgan's return from a deployment to Kuwait.
"As plaintiffs, we are fighting to receive the same benefits and opportunities as our married heterosexual counterparts. This discrimination causes undue financial and emotional hardship for our families. As a cancer survivor, who has been recently diagnosed with a recurrence, I worry every day that my health may take a turn for the worse, and Karen would be unable to receive the survivor's benefits to help take care of our daughter. We are only asking for fair and equitable treatment as a recognized family," Morgan said today.
Abbe Lowell and Christopher Man of Chadbourne & Parke, SLDN's pro bono co-counsel in the case, explained that providing all service members equal benefits is about more than just ensuring equality. They said this case promotes national security.
"Securing benefits for a service member's spouse allows the service member to do his or her job for the nation with the confidence that they're not putting their families at risk. It takes the worry out of the equation and allows them to serve with dignity and honor," they said.
Sarvis pointed out this is not about special rights, as some critics have argued.
"We are not advocating any special treatment for the families of gay and lesbian service members or veterans, but we want to underscore that all military families should be treated the same when it comes to recognition, benefits and family support," said Sarvis.
Major Shannon L. McLaughlin, ARNG
MAJ Shannon McLaughlin is a United States Army Major in the Massachusetts National Guard and serves as a Judge Advocate General (JAG). Her current military assignment is Chief of Legal Assistance for the Massachusetts Army National Guard. She has served for 13 years and is married in the State of Massachusetts to her partner of more than three years, Casey McLaughlin. They are the proud parents of ten-month old twins, Grace and Grant McLaughlin. MAJ McLaughlin has been mobilized and deployed overseas in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and served stateside in various roles during her military career as a JA. Prior to becoming an officer, MAJ McLaughlin attained the rank of Sergeant as an enlisted soldier.
Captain Steve M. Hill, USAR
CAPT Steve Hill is an Army reservist with 18 years of service currently on active duty at an undisclosed post in the Middle East. He is also a veteran of Operation Desert Shield. He is married to Joshua Snyder, his partner of more than a year, and they reside in Columbus, OH, where CAPT Hill is a Director of Public Health for Franklin County. CAPT Hill recently drew national interest when he submitted a video via You Tube that was used during the Fox News/Google Republican Presidential Debate in September to question the candidates about the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Charlie Morgan, ARNG
CW2 Charlie Morgan currently resides in New Hampshire, where she is married to her partner of more than 14 years, Karen Morgan, a part-time special education teacher, whose primary responsibility is caring for their four-year old daughter Casey Elena. With more than sixteen years of service, she now works full time as an Active Guard Reserve Education Officer in the New Hampshire National Guard. In 2010, she was deployed to mobilization training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, followed by Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, before returning home to New Hampshire in August 2011. Karen's lack of spousal recognition means she is unable to gain access to health and dental insurance, causing the family to purchase it at full cost with no discount. In addition, her inability to receive a military identification card prevents her from taking their daughter, who is a dependent with her own ID card, on post to take advantage of facilities and services otherwise available to families. CW2 Morgan is a cancer survivor who recently has been diagnosed with recurrent cancer. She worries every day that if her health takes a turn for the worse, her military survivor benefits will not be conferred.
Lieutenant Gary Ross, USN
LT Gary Ross has served in the U.S. Navy since 1995 and is currently stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where he works for the Joint Interoperability Test Command's Warfighter Support Division. His duties include standing watch as both the critical and routine Hotline Support Officer for the 24/7 operational, contingency, and routine inoperability problem technical support task team. He also provides support for joint, inter-agency, and coalition communication exercises. He married his partner of more than 11 years, Dan Swezy, in the State of Vermont at 12:01 a.m. on September 20, 2011 as the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" took effect.
Lieutenant Colonel Victoria A. Hudson, USAR
LTC Victoria A. Hudson has served in the U.S. Army Reserve for more than 32 years, including four years enlisted service. She is a veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Joint Endeavor (peace enforcement mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina), two Operation Noble Eagle domestic tours of duty following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., and one tour in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. She has held a variety of command and staff positions including military intelligence company commander, civil affairs company commander, brigade operations officer (G3) and two battalion commands. She is married to her partner of ten years, Monika Poxon, and they live in Hayward, CA, with their two-year-old daughter.
Airman First Class (A1C) Daniel Henderson, USAF
A1C Daniel P. Henderson joined the U.S. Air Force in November of 2010 and is currently stationed in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he works as a member of the 90th Security Forces Group, providing continuous security for the 90th Missile Wing's most vital assets. The mission of the 90th SFG includes the protection of F. E. Warren AFB, 15 Missile Alert Facilities (MAFs) and 150 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) on constant 24-hour alert throughout a 9,600 square-mile area spanning three states. The 90th SFG also sustains a combat-ready force deployable worldwide in support of wartime and peacetime tasks. He is married Jerret Henderson, his partner of more than 3 years. They plan to start the adoption process within the next few years and become parents.
Captain Joan E. Darrah, USN (Retired)
CAPT Joan E. Darrah joined the Navy in 1973 and served as a Naval Intelligence officer until her retirement in 2002. Her assignments included Deputy Director of the Human Resources Directorate at the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Intelligence Community Senior Detailer and Community Manager at the Bureau of Naval Personnel. From June 1997 until July 2000, she was assigned as the Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander at the Office of Naval Intelligence. Her final assignment was on the staff of the Director of Naval Intelligence where she was the Officer and Enlisted Community Manager. She is married to Lynne Kennedy, her partner since 1990, and they live in Alexandria, Virginia.
Colonel Stewart Bornhoft, USA (Retired)
COL Stewart Bornhoft served in the U.S. Army from the time of his West Point graduation in 1969 until his retirement in 1995. He completed two tours of duty in Vietnam before serving in Europe for three years and commanding two districts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In his final tour of duty, COL Bornhoft was the Director of Public Works at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, during which time he was called to Oklahoma City by the Commander of the Third Army to be the Secretary of the Army's Defense Coordinating Officer on-site during the rescue and recovery efforts following the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in April 1995. He is married to Stephen McNabb, a former Navy Lieutenant with eight years of active duty service and his partner of 15 years, and they live in Bonita, CA.
ABOUT SLDN: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. Since 1993, our in-house legal team has responded to more than 11,000 requests for assistance. To learn more, click here.
SLDN FREE HOTLINE: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members with questions are urged to contact the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: Call 1-800-538-7418 or 202-328-3244 x100. SLDN's Freedom to Serve: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Military Service, may be found here.