Separate and Unequal in the U.S. Military

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The New York Times has a deeply revealing story up on same-sex married couples and the difficulties they're encountering:


Gay marriage is now legal in nine states and in Washington, D.C. But because same-sex marriages are not recognized under federal law, the spouses of gay service members are barred from receiving medical and dental insurance and surviving spouse benefits and are not allowed to receive treatment in military medical facilities. Spouses are also barred from receiving military identification cards, which provide access to many community activities and services on base, including movie theaters, day care centers, gyms and commissaries. 

Gay service members who are married are not permitted to receive discounted housing that is routinely provided to heterosexual married couples...

Sgt. Karen Alexander, a chemical and biological specialist at Fort Bragg, said that she and her wife, Allison Hanson, were receiving about $1,300 a month less than they would be if they were a heterosexual married couple. Ms. Hanson said she had to drop out of college last year to find a job to help pay their bills. 

Bobby McDaniel, the husband of a lieutenant colonel stationed in Central America, had to cover his own airfare when his spouse was stationed there. The military also declined to support his request for a diplomatic visa, a privilege typically granted to heterosexual spouses, so he has to leave the country where they live every three months to apply for another visitor's visa. It is a financial hardship. 

But he said the psychic toll was greater. "It just kind of eats away at you," Mr. McDaniel said. "It makes you feel like you're not a complete person."

I want to drill down on that last point. Reading this in concert with Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns (which you should read) is disconcerting. During segregation, what you effectively had was every avenue of society angled toward telling black people, "You're not a complete person." That message is surely, on some level, received -- and it most certainly was received by black children.

I don't know how you measure the effects of such messaging on a populace. But I have to believe that it has a corrosive effect on the bonds between the recipient and their country. I can't think of any worse place to broadcast such a message than in our defense forces. Telling people to put their lives on the line for a country that regards them as a kind of pariah is just a bad idea.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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