Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN): Organization Representing Military Personnel Urges Caution to Service Members Seeking Gay Marriage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 21, 2008
2:10 PM

CONTACT: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN)
Victor Maldonado, Senior Communications Associate, SLDN
(202) 328-3244, ext. 123 (202) 797-1635
vmaldonado@sldn.org

 
Organization Representing Military Personnel Urges Caution to Service Members Seeking Gay Marriage
 
WASHINGTON, DC - May 21 - In a 4-3 decision the California State Supreme Court last Thursday ruled that same-sex couples have the same fundamental right to marry as heterosexual couples under the California State Constitution. The court’s ruling strikes down Proposition 22, a voter initiative passed in 2000 which sought to limit marriage to only between a man and woman. Servicememebers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national, non-profit legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," cautioned members of the military that despite the court’s ruling, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law prohibits service members from legally recognizing same-sex relationships.

“The California Supreme Court should be applauded for its decision extending rights to same-sex families. It is heartening to see further recognition of our fundamental right to enter into legal relationships. Unfortunately, our celebration is tempered by the reality that lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel cannot take advantage of these opportunities without risking their careers,” said SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis. “’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ jeopardizes the livelihood of any service member who seeks to enter into a civil union, domestic partnership or marriage.”

While California and Massachusetts are the only two states where same-sex marriages are permitted, several other states and the District of Columbia provide other types of recognition for same-sex relationships, conferring legal rights and benefits similar to marriage. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” however, prohibits service personnel from entering into “marriage or attempted marriage,” and service members who do so face dismissal under the law.

“Before my husband and I decided marry in Massachusetts, I had to sit down and ask myself which is more important, love and marriage or my career in the U.S. Army,” said retired Army Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Schmalz. “So I left the Army, and took with me my twenty-five years of experience, so that I could get married and start a family. It is a choice I never thought I would have to make and a choice that no American patriot should ever have to make.”

While the California Supreme court ruling asserts, “an individual’s sexual orientation — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights,” the federal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” law states that a service member “shall be separated from the armed forces” if “the member has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.”

“The marriage decision in California highlights the cruel choice placed before gay service members: service to country or recognition of family,” continued Sarvis. “Congress must repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ because no American who wears the uniform should have to make that choice.”

To learn more about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and same-sex marriage please visit www.sldn.org.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is a national, non-profit legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and related forms of intolerance. For more information, visit www.sldn.org.

###