Gay marriage became legal in California
on Monday, June 16th at 5:01PM. And a few counties
extended their office hours past 5PM on Monday to accommodate a
historic marriage or two. On Tuesday, country clerks opened their
doors to a flood of happy gay couples. But for members of the
military, getting married would mean loosing their jobs.
The California Supreme Court ruling
that legalized gay marriage is in direct conflict with the military's
policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly. The federal
“Don't Ask, Don't Tell” law states that a service member “shall
be separated from the Armed Forces” if he/she has “married or
attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.”
Gay marriage is only recognized in
Massachusetts and California.
California, unlike Massachusetts, is
home to thousands of military personnel. The nation's largest
active-duty force – at least 120,000 sailors, Marines and soldiers
- is in San Diego County.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense
Network (SLDN), a pro-gay group that opposes the ban, believes there
are 65,000 gay and lesbian personnel serving in the Armed Forces.
The SLDN says, on average 2 gay personnel are dismissed each day –
12,000 since the policy was enacted in 1993.
Groups opposing the ban have expressed
concern over the effects the contradictory message of legal gay
marriages unrecognized by the military may have on personnel. They
point to this disparity with the law as yet another example of the
dated nature of the ban.
In the end, the ban forces gay
personnel to choose between a job and serving their country or
recognition of loved ones.
“The marriage decision in California
highlights the cruel choice placed before gay service members:
service to country or recognition of family,” said SLDN Executive
Director Aubrey Sarvis in a press release.
Retired Army Staff Sergeant Jeffrey
Schmalz said of his painful decision, “Before my husband and I
decided to 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. 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.”
“The law places an unacceptable
barrier before those who want to start families...” said Parents,
Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Director of
Communications Steve Ralls.
“...no American who wears the uniform
should have to make that choice,” said Sarvis.