Now that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the “Defense of Marriage Act” are history, wedding bells are ringing at West Point for same-sex couples. A little over a week ago, Daniel Lennox and Larry Choate III, both West Point graduates, exchanged their vows in the historic West Point Cadet Chapel, following in the footsteps of lesbian couples who married at West Point late last year.
In 2011, the military issued a memo allowing military Chaplains to perform same-sex weddings on and off base. In August of this year, the military began trying to make it easier for service members to take time off to marry their same-sex partners. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the goal of the policy was to “help level the playing field” for same-sex couples. Under the new policy, service members in the continental United States who are stationed more than 100 miles from a place that allows same-sex marriages could take up to seven days off to travel to a place to marry. Service members overseas can take up to 20 days off for the same reason. Most important to the new “level playing field,” the newlywed spouse of the service member then becomes eligible for a host of important benefits such as health care, tuition assistance and joint assignments.
Some of the service branches have issued guidelines to make it easier for service members to take advantage of this policy. The Marines led the way and, more recently, the Air Force has issued directives allowing service members to take time away from work to travel to same-sex marriage states to wed.
The work of equality is not done. Some service members still report difficulty accessing the leave. Transgender men and women still must hide their true identities or face discharge. Members of the LGBT community still face discrimination and harassment. But there is also little doubt now that real change is underway, and allowing service members to marry their same-sex partners is an important step towards the freedom and equality those who serve in our military risk their lives to protect.