When the Department of Defense announced it would begin offering benefits to same-sex spouses, it also announced its intention to grant up to 10 days of special leave for military personnel who needed to travel more than 100 miles to a locale where same-sex marriages were legally recognized.
Seven weeks later, it appears that many -- but not all -- LGBT military personnel aren't being permitted to reap the benefits of that policy. David S. Cloud of the LA Times reported Wednesday that "gays and lesbians in the military are running into widespread obstacles" as they try to get time off to be legally wed.
Part of the difficulty for these soldiers, as indicated by the article, comes from the administrative challenge of turning an administrative prescription into a foolproof military policy. One Army officer quoted said her commander hadn't heard of the Pentagon's directive. Others told Cloud their commanders said the soldiers could not be spared time off.
On face value, that's fair: The Pentagon's memo gave commanders discretion on approving time off, and the reality of military service is that there are simply times when leave can't be offered to deployed soldiers. Those issues will continue to be sorted out as the Army, Navy and Air Force put out final guidelines on same-sex marriage leave. (According to Cloud, the Marines have already done so.)
What's worrisome are the two soldiers who reported resentment from fellow troops over the new policy because, as one told Cloud his commander said, "it's not fair to heterosexuals." That's a predictable response (it was foreseen on this blog two months ago), and it's incredibly problematic.
After the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the U.S. military made the point that it would offer no special treatment for soldiers. On the surface, the same-sex marriage leave policy does just that: A soldier traveling to Maryland to marry his opposite-sex partner would have to take personal leave to do so, but if his spouse-to-be were of the same gender, he would not. In an effort to promote equal access to marriage benefits, the Pentagon created a slight imbalance that gives soldiers in same-sex relationships special privileges.
With only 13 states, several New Mexico counties and the District of Columbia currently permitting marriage, the fact that most soldiers and their same-sex partners don't have the option to get married where they're stationed is certainly something the military has to contend with. But many soldiers who are in opposite-sex relationships face similar obstacles, particularly those located overseas.
If the Pentagon's marriage leave policy was intended to achieve LGBT equality, it took a step in the right direction. For same-sex couples to have access to military benefits, they need to have real access to marriage.
But officials also have a responsibility to promote tolerance among military ranks -- which means any additional marriage-related concessions made to same-sex couples ought to be made to opposite-sex ones, as well.