Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federal military benefits were finally extended to same-sex couples and their children. Though this landmark ruling has furthered the struggle for equal rights, same-sex military couples still face serious complications when exercising their legal rights regarding their children and in other family law issues. This is because although same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states, around two-thirds of active duty U.S. military personnel are stationed in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.
DOMA Only Applicable at the Federal Level
Oftentimes, people misunderstand the DOMA ruling and do not realize that it is only binding on federal employers, contractors and institutions. Thus, states are still allowed to deny legal benefits under the law to same-sex couples as long as federal funding is not involved. Same-sex military couples stationed in states that do not allow same-sex marriage face significant barriers especially when it comes to their status as parents. While here in Connecticut both same-sex partners can be considered the legal parent of a child through processes such as second parent adoption, this is not the case in states that do not allow same-sex marriage. In states that do not allow same-sex marriage, only the biological parent can be listed as the child’s official parent. This inability for both parents to be recognized as their child’s parents means that only the person who is considered the official parent can make health care decisions for their child, or do simple things like register their child for school. Often, same-sex couples living in states that do not allow same-sex marriage get around such prohibitions against exercising family law rights by using power of attorney documents issued on behalf of the official parent.
Currently, the Pentagon does not have an official policy that addresses the unique issues facing same-sex military couples who end up being based in states that do not recognize their same-sex marriages. These service members can express their location preferences and submit requests, but their unique legal needs do not outweigh requests by heterosexual members who, for example, request specific locations based on their spouse’s job, or to be close to ailing family members. Instead, all location requests, regardless of their merits, are weighed against the military’s need to have personnel with specific skills, and where and when these skills are needed.
Military Taking Steps in the Right Direction
In the last decade, the U.S. military has made great strides in its treatment of its gay service members. Though it is only fair that all location requests made by service members be judged the same, regardless of underlying need, the transient nature of the profession causes same-sex military couples to face significant issues when they are stationed in states that do not recognize gay marriages.
Contact the experienced Fairfield County family law attorneys at our law firm today to discuss the specifics of your case if you are interested in pursuing a same-sex divorce. We serve clients in the Fairfield County area.