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Military hopefuls inspired by changes

Marriage policy affects gay students’ choice to enlist

Contributing Writer

Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 18:09

Veterans Commemorative Site

Veronica Brezina/Central Florida Future

Pictured: Veterans Commemorative Site at Memory Mall.

The Pentagon announced it would extend federal benefits to married same-sex spouses of the U.S. military no later than Sept. 3, according to a Defense Department announcement. This will be followed by the Supreme Court’s decision. It will include benefits such as housing, health care and survivor benefits to those legally married before the June 26 Supreme Court decision, according to the announcement. Entitlements will begin at the date of marriage for those who wed after the ruling.

These privileges will specifically include access to military commissaries, which sell groceries and household items to active-duty, National Guard, Reserve and retired service members and their families at an average savings of more than 30 percent when compared with prices at local civilian supermarkets, according to the Commissionaire’s website. Adding to that, there will also be access to other facilities and family support systems located on military bases and posts, according to an article from the New York Times. Another opportunity is the availability to fly on the Defense Department aircraft, space permitting.

The Task Force, a pro-LGBT, non-profit organization, is pleased to express its satisfaction with that the Department of Defense finally providing benefits to same-sex spouses of service members.

“Until this week, our government did not treat all military spouses equally," Rev. Darlene Nipper, Task Force deputy executive director, said on Sept. 4. "Today we can say with pride that same-sex military spouses and their families, who know all too well that freedom isn’t free, will be treated equally.”

A new chapter began on Sept. 20, 2011 for gay and lesbian military members when the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law was repealed. DADT was a law prohibiting gays and lesbians to serve in the military. The approval of entitlements for same-sex military spouses is another step in the direction toward making the field level for all service men and women, regardless of sexual orientation.

This new ruling was all made possible by the lawsuit of Tracey Cooper-Harris of California, a 12-year veteran who suffers from multiple sclerosis, “who sued the VA for denying her full disability benefits because she is married to a woman,” according to NBC News.

Now with the new ruling, same-sex spouses can’t be denied benefits.

UCF is known for diversity of many cultures and beliefs around campus. Students shared their opinion about this new ruling.

“I want to become a psychological operations officer in the Army," Brianna Pantoja, a sophomore majoring in psychology and athletic training, said.

“Getting married and being in the Army was a main concern because of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It made me question whether I should get married in the future.

“Mostly being discriminated against was the main point which worried me was if I had to deploy when I commissioned, would my wife be taken care of while I was away and also if something were to happen to me, what if she would receive anything," Pantoja said.

Pantoja is part of UCF’s ROTC program and is also on the board of the LGBT organization, EQUAL. She also comes from a family of service members. Her uncle served in the Marines but was medically discharged. Her cousins and many of her friends and acquaintances from high school have also joined the military.

“The issue would be that this is something new that they would have to get used to. The problem would be trying to enforce it,” Pantoja said about the new same-sex benefits initiative. “It’s becoming less intense, though, from what I have seen and heard about from my friends in the barracks … I am happy that the military is becoming more and more accepting each year.”

Some students would say we have arrived at progression, such as Stephanie Matlick, a junior psychology major. Matlick has had two grandfathers who had served in the Army.

“I agree with it [the ruling], heterosexuals can have benefits," Matlick said. "Those in a civil union or married should have the same things as well as gender equality. I hope they continue having equality and it becomes more accepting in this country.”

Other students, such as junior psychology major Carlos Ashby, believe time will tell for how forceful the government will be toward actually granting same-sex military spouses the same entitlements and benefits they deserve.

“It won’t stop immediately," Ashby said. "Certain bases like Jackson, N.C. would be less accepting because it is part of the south.”

Rob Cravatta, vice president of the UCF chapter of Student Veterans of America, believes that this will not be enforced, but for the rest of us that who are hopefuls, time will tell how much will be followed through with this new enactment for same-sex spouses.

“It’s a great thing. It shows a lot of progression, but not everybody gets the same equal treatment," Cravatta said. “No, they won’t enforce it. They separate each other [the heterosexuals and the gays]. People with strong beliefs will keep fighting with them." 

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