Opinion: DoD Grants Gays & Lesbians 10 Days Non-Chargeable Wedding Leave
If you’re a father on TDY in Texas and you need to travel to New York because your child or wife is in the hospital, you have to take leave out of your allotted 30 days per year. That’s what it’s for.
If you want to marry your same-sex partner, however, you don’t have to charge leave against your 30 days. Instead, the DoD, at taxpayers’ expense, will grant you an additional, free 7-10 days of military leave – a benefit the DoD does not grant under any circumstances to heterosexuals, single or married.
That’s the end result of the DoD’s announcement yesterday that they will grant 10 days leave to any servicemember who wants to marry a same-sex partner if that servicemember is not stationed within one of the 13 states that grant same-sex marriage licenses, or within 100 miles of one.
The decision sparked applause from advocates of gay/lesbian rights within the military, but also criticism from some circles for granting a special benefit to gays and lesbians that is not available to heterosexuals.
What Does This Cost?
The DoD estimates that as many as 18,000 active-duty servicemembers are gay or lesbian. If a third of these take non-chargeable leave to get married, and we assume a standard planning factor of $250 per servicemember per day, a 7-day leave for all 6,000 results in a total cost to the taxpayer of approximately $10.5 million. And that’s just to get wedding rings on their fingers.
This is not counting the additional outlays the taxpayer must fund as thousands of servicemembers qualify for the higher Type II ‘with dependents’ BAH rate, nor the cost of adding six thousand more enrollees in TRICARE.
The announcement comes even as the Secretary of Defense and other Pentagon leaders are cautioning military families that funding for basic services such as schools, commissaries and day care is in jeopardy due to sequestration.
Supporters of the additional non-chargeable leave available only to same-sex couples argue that the leave simply addresses the additional hardships and inconveniences that same-sex couples have because they cannot get married in every state.
Opponents argue that that is an issue for state legislators to address, and should not be the DoD’s problem, nor should taxpayers in other states
Opponents also argue that the announcement amounts to special treatment of a favored group, and will serve to undermine resentment of servicemembers in same-sex relationships as other troops make up their workload.
They also argue that in today’s austere budget environment, benefits granted to same-sex couples will squeeze out benefits for traditional families, and that the money committed to providing these benefits is better spent elsewhere.
On a personal level, the idea that we could lift the ban on gay or lesbian servicemembers serving openly without quickly granting full spousal benefits to same-sex dependents was never realistic. You cannot have a military with an apartheid-like system of family supports and services, with some spouses eligible for full benefits and other spouses not even allowed to live in military housing. To do so would be rightly perceived as an insult to those same-sex couples assigned to 2nd class status. You cannot have a functional family support group, or a functioning community, if you do not include the lawful spouses of all servicemembers.
That said, granting the additional 10 days leave to gay and lesbian servicemembers while denying the same benefit to other service members who have family emergencies, for example, or who simply want to get married in their home of record, is a bridge too far. It will be widely perceived as a $10.5 million-plus sop to political correctness and as special treatment for the new protected class.
The resentment will be particularly acute as money is found to provide this leave, plus additional benefits for same-sex couples, even as services for traditional families, such as DoD schools, face cutbacks and furloughs. This will be especially true in inevitable cases where soldiers taking emergency bereavement leave, or leave to witness their children being born, for example are forced to charge their leave while gay or lesbian coworkers at the next desk are not. There is no way to cover or paper over that absurdity, and that’s what it is – an absurdity.
If everyone can’t use an additional 7-10 days of non-chargeable leave for major family issues such as births and deaths, as well as marriages, then it should apply to no one.
Put another way, the same leave policy should apply across the board. Period.
That is what is best for gay and straight troops alike.
Where do you stand on this issue? Do you agree with Jason that it is unfair to grant a special benefit of extra leave to gay servicemembers? Or do you think this is one small way to make up for the discrimination gay servicemembers have endured up to this point? Tell us in the comments.