The Impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Families

Every day, the men and women of the United States Armed Forces make
countless sacrifices in service to our nation. These sacrifices are
magnified for the 65,000 LGBT service members and their families by
the federal law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which ¬†prohibits
LGBT service members from serving openly.LGBT parents face unique
challenges and harms because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The law
forces them to choose between protecting their partners and
children and keeping their job. For example, LGBT parents cannot
marry or enter into a civil union or domestic partnership without
creating a public record of the service member’s relationship,
which is a violation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Oftentimes,
service members will choose not to establish legal relationships
with their own children – such as going through the formal
second-parent adoption of a partner’s biological child – because
they are required to provide the military with copies of birth
certificates and adoption paperwork for all dependents. These
documents usually list both legal parents and would effectively
“out” the service member to their command. Failing to report legal
dependents to the military makes a service member vulnerable to
criminal charges. Failing to establish a legal parental
relationship deprives these children of access to critical
protections, such as medical care and survivorship benefits.
Service members should not have to compromise the safety and
security of their own families to do their job of protecting
America.

Scott Hines graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and
rose to the rank of Major during his 10 years in the service. Scott
already had two biological children, Shiloh and Eden, from a
previous marriage when he and his partner Jon decided to adopt two
children together. The military recognized Shiloh and Eden as
Scott’s legal dependents from the time they were born. But when
Scott and Jon adopted Louis and Sage, Scott was faced with having
to provide their adoption and birth certificates to the military,
which would list Jon as the other parent, “outing” Scott, and
putting his career at risk. Failure to report Louis and Sage as
dependents would not only subject Scott to criminal charges, but
would also deprive his two adopted children of access to benefits
his two biological children already enjoyed – such as medical care
and survivor benefits. Scott may have also had access to increased
pay and housing allowances to help him support his larger family.
Scott was forced to make an impossible choice between risking the
career he loved and that helped him support his family and leaving
Louis and Sage without the security and benefits other dependents,
including their two siblings, would receive should anything ever
happen to him.

Living under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” exacted not only financial
burdens on Scott’s family, but also an emotional toll. Scott’s
family couldn’t attend unit picnics with him. When he returned from
a trip overseas they couldn’t greet him on base like the other
families; Scott had to wait to reunite with them at home. Scott
notes that, “One of the wonderful things about the military is that
it’s a big family. Spouses support each other. Children support
each other. All of these networks are unavailable to LGBT service
members.” While he was protecting America and raising his children
to be healthy and honest, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hurt his family
and forced them to be dishonest. In 2005, Scott ended his
decade-long career because he felt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was
unfair to his partner and children.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the only federal law that requires a
person to be fired because of their sexual orientation. While
passage of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1283) would
repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and replace it with a
nondiscrimination law, it will not solve all of the problems faced
by LGBT service members. It will not provide benefits for same-sex
partners or spouses nor would it require that the military provide
housing on base for LGBT families. However, repeal of “Don’t Ask,
Don’t Tell” will eliminate many of the barriers service members
face in creating and maintaining happy, healthy families. It will
allow service members to protect their families by entering into
legally recognized unions with their same-sex partners and to
register their children as legal dependents without the fear of
being fired. Repeal will ensure that children of LGBT service
members have access to the same benefits and resources that other
military dependents receive – like being able to enjoy the annual
unit picnic, attend school on base, or participate in the official
“coming home” ceremonies along with all of the other families
welcoming their service members back after a long deployment.

Service members put their lives on the line to protect America.
America should enable all service members to protect their
families by repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”