Last December, U.S. Marine Corps. Captain Matthew Phelps got down on one knee and proposed to the person he loved most in the world. It was one of the happiest moments of his life. The fact that it occurred in the White House made it all that much sweeter. Pictures of the moment went viral, popping up all over Twitter and Facebook.
Amazingly, while most Americans can recognize how special that moment was, our government continues to deny its significance. That’s because Matthew is gay, and due to that fact alone, his soon-to-be husband, Ben Schock, will be denied hundreds of benefits that we routinely give to military families.
When I was in Congress, I fought to end the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy restricting gays from openly serving in the military. As I said time and again: you either believe in equality or you don’t. So as a Congressman, I didn’t see ending DADT as a tough choice. In fact, I didn’t see it as a choice at all–I saw it as a moral obligation.
So it goes without saying that I have never been more proud than I was in September 2011, when the military, at President Obama’s order, formally repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I’ve been overwhelmed by the stories of courage that I’ve heard from our gay servicemen and women who have come out since then.
But while these men and women are good enough to risk their lives in defense of this country, their families are still considered to be second-class. That’s because of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage to be between a man and a woman for the purposes of all federal benefits. No fewer than eight federal courts have held that this provision is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to its constitutionality at the end of this month. I hope the Court does what’s right and overturns this terrible law.
It can no longer be debated–seriously, at least–where the public stands on the issue. Since President Obama publicly announced his support for same-sex marriage in May of last year, a majority of Americans have consistently supported making it legal. Last November, same-sex marriage had a clean sweep at the polls: voters approved same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, and Washington while rejecting a ban in Minnesota; in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin was elected the first openly gay U.S. senator.
On DOMA, the public is equally clear: they don’t like it. The White House itself has even come out against it. Over a hundred high-profile Republicans–including Ken Mehlman and Steve Schmidt, the architects of George W. Bush’s 2004 and John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaigns–have publicly opposed it.
Despite all of this, the fate of many military families rests in the hands of the Supreme Court. If the Court upholds DOMA, Ben and Matthew won’t be able to file a joint tax return, and Ben won’t be eligible for federal spousal benefits. Tens of thousands of couples will be similarly hurt, as the Center for American Progress and OutServe-SLDN detail in a recent report.
Matthew Phelps joined the military in 2002 because he wanted to serve this country, the country that he loves, after it was attacked on 9/11. In 2012, he expressed that same love and devotion to the man he hopes to spend the rest of his life with. As Truman National Security Fellow and former Army Captain Jonathan Hopkins writes in The New York Times, “the loving support of these families increases our troops’ resilience and improves our national defense.” The Court owes it to Ben and Matthew to recognize their marriage for exactly what it is. As I like to say, the justices either believe in equality or they don’t. This is a defining moment for our nation. If members of the court want to be on the right side of history, they will vote to strike down DOMA.