When a Spouse is Not "Spouse" Enough
By Molly Blake
In between ubiquitous Facebook and twitter posts about 12-12-12, a curious headline caught my attention. “Denied Membership: An Open Letter to the President of the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses.”
It was ironic, I suppose, that the OSC board that I serve with just wrapped up a fairly successful fundraiser for our Holiday Food Basket Program and we were currently on the hunt for a victim err … volunteer to carve out the next event, organize it, plan it, set it up, make the requisite buffalo chicken cheese dip, clean it up, and tally the meager take. So often our OSC meetings are like a game of whack-a-mole – board members ducking for cover when the president puts out a call for volunteers.
When the Patraeus scandal hit, the headlines were dominated by the General’s infidelity, his resignation and all the salacious details for far too long - while most military spouses, myself included, shook our heads in disgust at both the unfaithfulness (the same way, mind you as we shake our heads at cheating celebs, friends, and politicians – military or otherwise) and the idea that just because we are military spouses somehow makes us experts in the marriages of every military spouse – even the ones we don’t know.
But this subject – the Fort Bragg Officers’ Spouses denial of a well-intentioned military spouse had me clicking away at my MAC in minutes.
So this time around let’s be clear about a few things. Let’s just put it all out there, like a group lemon squeeze, and state the facts.
Ashley Broadway, a young energetic military spouse, stumbled across the Fort Bragg Officers’ Spouses Club website and asked to join. She was informed that she did not qualify. She wrote an open letter to the board politely asking them to reconsider their position admitting that she’d only been a legal spouse since early November but that she’d been with her Soldier for the better part of 15 years. The former teacher said she would be “an outstanding addition to your group” having served in many prior volunteer roles. On the heels of her letter, the board did reconsider her application and rather than apologize for the miscommunication and welcome her – they allegedly up and changed the club by laws requiring volunteers to posses a valid Military spouse I.D. card – something Broadway doesn’t have because the military doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage under DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. And there’s the catch. Broadway is married to a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army who happens to be a woman.
“She’s taking care of the kids just like everyone else,” said my friend who currently serves on an Officers’ Spouses Board at a Marine Base in Arizona. “It shouldn’t matter.”
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed a year ago. It involved training for service members and a flurry of stories about what it would do to troop morale – a term so often flung around like a lacrosse ball. Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey found that a majority of respondents said the repeal of DADT had no impact. 68 percent said it had no impact on their desire to attend military functions. 55 percent said it had no impact on their military support group’s morale and 72 percent said it had no impact on their service member’s ability to perform their job.
I’ll admit some of the rules governing charitable non-military groups are murky at best. The DoD states: "No person because of race, color, creed, sex, age, disability, or national origin shall be unlawfully denied membership, unlawfully excluded from participation, or otherwise subjected to unlawful discrimination by any non-Federal entity or other private organization covered by this Instruction."
But who would have thought a group whose sole existence is to help other military spouses and families would deny one of their own. What if someone has a DUI on their record or declared Bankruptcy a few years back? Or gets botox or dyes their hair two shades too blond, drinks pink champagne on Sunday or doesn't vaccinate their kids? Are OSC’s going to take it upon themselves to police their sisters’ character – denying some while approving others? And if that's the case, then I would have been denied long ago.
Where does it end?
Ashley Broadway – I don’t care if you are gay. I care that you are a dedicated military spouse who supports your soldier. I care that you want to be an example to other spouses and volunteer your time for the benefit of others. I care that you are willing to set up chairs and tables for fundraisers, bring new and innovative ways to raise money for our neediest military families, collate bid sheets, make brownies and raise your hand when the president needs a volunteer.
Blue Star Families has worked to educate the public about military families serving alongside service members. We remind civilians at every opportunity that spouses may not wear a uniform but we do, in fact, serve. And cloaking bigotry behind by laws belays that work and the promise of enduring respect for service members and their families – long after the war is over.
No one’s asking the Fort Bragg OSC to come out (pun intended) as supporters of gay marriage or DADT. No one’s requiring you to be anything other than what your very web site promises. “Joining ABOS will connect you to an amazing, energetic, inspirational, supportive, and diverse group of Military Spouses.”
And if you don’t want to live up to your own expectations – try living by the Army code to “treat others with dignity and respect while expecting others to do the same.”
Unless of course you want next year’s board to dig into your personal life and decide if perhaps you, Madam President, are worthy enough to call yourself a spouse.