SAN DIEGO -- Gay service members from Army soldiers to Air Force officers are planning to celebrate the official end of the military's 17-year policy that forced them to hide their sexual orientation with another official act: marriage.
A 27-year-old Air Force officer from Ohio said he can't wait to wed his partner of two years and slip on a ring that he won't have to take off or lie about when he goes to work each day once "don't ask, don't tell" is repealed. He plans to wed his boyfriend, a federal employee, in Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriages are legal.
He asked not to be identified, following the advice of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national organization representing gay troops, including the Air Force officer, that has cautioned those on active duty from coming out until the ban is off the books.
"I owe it to him and myself," the officer said of getting married. "I don't want to do it in the dark. I think that taints what it's supposed to be about -- which is us, our families, and our government."
But in the eyes of the military the marriage will not be recognized and the couple will still be denied most of the benefits the Defense Department gives to heterosexual couples to ease the costs of medical care, travel, housing and other living expenses.
The Pentagon says the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for federal program purposes as a legal union between a man and woman, prohibits the Defense Department from extending those benefits to gay couples, even if they are married legally in certain states.
That means housing allowances and off-base living space for gay service members with partners could be decided as if they were living alone. Base transfers would not take their spouses into account. If two gay service members are married to each other they may be transferred to two different states or regions of the world. The military tries to avoid that for heterosexual couples.
Gay activists and even some commanders say the discrepancy will create a two-tier system in an institution built on uniformity.
"It's not going to work," said Army Reserve Capt. R. Clarke Cooper, who heads the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group that sued the Justice Department to stop the enforcement of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. "Taking care of our soldiers is necessary to ensure morale and unit cohesion. This creates a glaring stratification in the disbursement of support services and benefits."
The Obama administration said it believed the ban could be lifted in weeks. On July 6, a federal appeals court ordered the government to cease its enforcement immediately. The Department of Justice asked the court to reconsider, and on Friday it reinstated the law but with a caveat that prevents investigating or penalizing anyone who is openly gay.