By David Zucchino
An officers' spouse club at Fort Bragg, N.C., has offered a "special guest membership" to the same-sex spouse of a U.S. Army officer after earlier denying the woman's application to join the private organization.
Ashley Broadway, a lesbian who is married to Lt. Col. Heather Mack, rejected the offer, calling it "not only offensive, but just plain hurtful."
The club's refusal last month to admit Broadway has focused attention on the rights of same-sex military couples more than a year after the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" allowed homosexuals to serve openly. Same-sex spouses are denied many military benefits afforded opposite-sex spouses because the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Broadway said the spouse group told her last month that she was not eligible for membership at all because she lacked a military ID. The group's statement said Broadway was told that her request to join as a same-sex spouse "would need to be studied." It said the group does not "explicitly" require a military ID for membership.
On Thursday night, the spouse group offered the guest membership and invited Broadway and Mack to attend the club's next event in February -- "in a continued attempt to support all military families," the statement said.
In a letter to Broadway, club President Mary Ring said guest membership was offered "while our by-laws are being reviewed."
Broadway, who married Mack in November after the couple lived together for 15 years, said the offer treats her as less than equal.
"My wife wears the same uniform as the spouses of [the club] and she's just as prepared to give her life for our country," Broadway said. "I wake up each and every day to the reality that I'm not equal, that my 15 years of love and faithfulness to my wife and country does not mean I'll receive support as a military spouse."
Stephen L. Peters II, president of the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for lesbian and gay military families, called the spouse group's offer "not only offensive, but ridiculous."
In a statement, Peters called guest membership "a second-class membership." If the spouse group now says it does not require a military ID, he said, then Broadway is eligible for full membership.
Peters said the spouse group retroactively changed its membership requirements last month, adding the military ID requirement in order to deny Broadway membership. The spouse group's statement said the club's by-laws "were never changed retroactively in an attempt to exclude anyone."
Fort Bragg military officials have declined to intercede, saying the spouse group is a private organization and is breaking no laws.
The Marine Corps, referring to the Broadway case, last week ordered private clubs on Marine bases to admit same-sex spouses. A legal memo issued by the Corps said "no person shall be discriminated against because of race, color, creed, sex, age, disability, or national origin or otherwise subjected to unlawful discrimination."
An Army spokesman said last week that the Army has no plans to follow the Marine Corps lead and order clubs on Army bases to admit same sex spouses.
The Department of Defense says it has been reviewing military benefits for same sex couples following repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in September 2011, with an eye toward expanding the benefits.