DAN SAVAGE: Things have changed for gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, but what people need to remember is that people are serving openly in the military but not equally in the military. Lesbian, gay, and bi people who are in the military are still discriminated against — in large and small ways. Gay people serve openly in the military now but not equally because of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing as a valid marriage any marriage that isn’t an opposite sex couple.
Tracey Cooper-Harris served in the military. And she’s legally married. She got married in California in that window when gay marriage was legal. She is ill. She has multiple sclerosis, which could be related in some way to her service. If her spouse were a man, he would automatically have access to all sorts of benefits: pension benefits, survivor benefits. But because the defense department, a federal institution controls, benefits for military veterans, they’re denying Tracey’s legally married spouse those potential benefits. Forty years ago, someone like Tracey in all likelihood wouldn’t have been out to family, wouldn’t have been able to risk coming out publicly without losing whatever job she had now — and so wouldn’t fight for her rights. We live in a different world. And so Tracey and her wife are suing — pushing and demanding.
There’s unfinished business when it comes to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. And that unfinished business is the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. One down, one big one to go. And we’re going to win. You’re going to see openly gay service members demanding — not just to serve openly, but to serve equally. Demanding their full civil equality. You know, you can’t be handed a gun by your government and told to fight for all Americans and then be told by that same government that you’re not equal to all Americans and you don’t deserve the same rights as all Americans. If you’re qualified to fight for the rights of all Americans, you should enjoy the rights of all other Americans.
Now that people can serve openly, now that people can be gay in the military without risking their career, a lot of those people are going to be warriors for L.G.B.T. civil rights causes. It’s really going to power and drive the movement. It’s not just going to change the attitudes of gay and lesbian and bi Americans, it’s going to change the attitudes of straight people and straight Americans — about the equality and capability and qualifications of gay people.