NPR Story
4:32 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Gay Service Members Taking Leave To Get Married

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 4:10 pm

It’s been more than three months since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which recognized marriage only between a man and a woman.

Now the Pentagon says it’s time to honor that repeal of DOMA by extending benefits to legally married gay service members.

The change will mean that the Pentagon will soon provide health care and housing to the gay spouses. It will also provide paid leave for gay service members to travel to states where same-sex marriage is legal, in order to get married.

Air Force Maj. Jeff Mueller says he will finally wed his partner next month in Los Angeles, since he is based in Colorado, where gay marriage is not legal.

“When I was in college, I gave a speech on why I thought ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ should be repealed,” Mueller told Here & Now. “It kind of seemed like a pipe dream at the time. Then obviously now, within two years, that’s gone — I can get married and have the federal government recognize it. I’m happy that things are going so quickly.”

Guest

  • Jeff Mueller, Air Force major stationed at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Copyright 2013 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW, and it's been about two months since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which recognized marriage only between a man and a woman. Now the Pentagon says it's time to honor that repeal of DOMA by extending benefits to legally married gay service members, and do it retroactively to the date of the Supreme Court decision.

The changes will mean that starting in September, the Pentagon will provide health care and housing to gay spouses and also pay for leave so that gay service members can travel to marry in the state where marriage is legal, if it's not married in the state where they're based. One of those states where it is not legal is Colorado. That's where our next guest is.

Jeff Mueller is a major stationed at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. He's with us now from member station KRCC. Jeff, thanks for joining us.

MAJOR JEFF MUELLER: Thank you very much.

HOBSON: So you're 34, you've been in the service for 12 years, a time in which there has been a lot of change for gay service members. Take us back, first of all, to what it was like during don't ask, don't tell, before that was repealed.

MUELLER: Well, it kind of started when I was in ROTC. I got on scholarship my sophomore year and had to sign an addendum to the contract, because they hadn't yet written it into the contract, basically stating that if I violated don't ask, don't tell, I could get kicked out and possibly repay all of the scholarship money that they were giving me.

So I did that, and it was like, well, what am I getting myself into? College kind of progressed, you know, not so bad, you know, being in an educational environment. And then getting into active duty a couple years later, it was interesting. You know, you change a lot of pronouns, you be careful of who you're going out with and who people in public see you with, just to try to make sure that you're not going to lose your job. So it was scary at times, for sure.

HOBSON: And what kind of thing would make you lose your job? How far would you have to go to actually lose your job under don't ask, don't tell?

MUELLER: You know, it went through various stages of what people would try to look for. So, you know, at times just being seen with someone, you know, of the same sex, you were perceived on a date, that could kick off an investigation, you know, going to a gay club, going to a gay bar, posting something on the Web, of course back then there wasn't really Facebook, so that wasn't too much of an issue. But it could be something very, very little.

HOBSON: Did any of your fellow service members know about you?

MUELLER: Initially no, but as time wore on, and I grew more brave, I guess, you know, I would start to tell some of my close friends. And, you know, I really never had any negative reactions. They were all very supportive, and through that process, you know, I actually found other gay service members to connect with, to kind of start forming a community and a support group.

HOBSON: Now don't ask, don't tell was repealed in 2011. How did things change, and how fast did things change for you once that happened?

MUELLER: For me it changed pretty quickly, actually. I'm involved with an organization called OutServe-SLDN, and because of my involvement with that, I was on the front page of the Denver Post on repeal day. Really that wasn't my intent, I just kind of wanted to start to live my life the same that I had, you know, maybe to start wearing my engagement ring to work and not have to worry about changing pronouns.

But, you know, being thrust into that was fine, and it was kind of setting an example for those out there that maybe weren't ready to come out or wanted to but kind of needed someone to lay the groundwork.

HOBSON: Did anyone react negatively?

MUELLER: I wouldn't call it negatively. You know, there were, you know, I heard whispers of things here and there, but honestly the people that I thought would have the harshest reaction probably, you know, or some of the better friends that I have in my current job, you know, retired, you know, higher enlisted people, don't really have an issue anymore with it.

You know, I don't know whether it was me or, you know, just they were changing with the times, but yeah, really no negative reactions.

HOBSON: And now it has been about three months since the Supreme Court struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act or a key provision of it, which recognized marriage only between a man and a woman. What has that meant for you so far? What will it mean for you?

MUELLER: So far it means that I have to plan a wedding here in the next month, which is kind of exciting. I've been engaged for five years; I've been together with my partner for eight. So it was a great day knowing that we finally get to the path of full equality within the military.

And then the Department of Defense came out last week and stated that they will require marriage to get the benefits, which absolutely is the right thing to do. So here for the future, my partner is starting a Ph.D. program in Los Angeles, and obviously in California along with them striking down key provisions of DOMA, Proposition 8 also went away, allowing same-sex marriage in California.

So on September 23rd, we will be getting married in Los Angeles.

HOBSON: So you're going to go to Los Angeles, but gay marriage is not legal in Colorado, where you are based.

MUELLER: That is correct. That's why we have to travel.

HOBSON: So how does that impact the way that the law will treat you?

MUELLER: So within Colorado, they will not recognize my marriage once it happens, and so who knows, if something were to happen to me in Colorado, and my partner Eric(ph) would have to, you know, come to the hospital, who knows how Colorado would treat it.

I have a family friend that's a lawyer, and we're going to have to (unintelligible) the process with her and get some documents in place to ensure that no matter where we're at we still get the same treatment that we would get with a marriage certificate in California.

HOBSON: What are some of the benefits that you're going to get that maybe people don't think about when they think about what you get when you get married? What kind of things are you going to be able to get from the federal government that you haven't been able to get before?

MUELLER: Well, there's very simple things, such as, you know, each service member gets a basic allowance for housing, and there's two different rates. There's a with-dependent and a without-dependent. So as soon as we get married and go do the paperwork, we'll be able to get the with-dependent rate. As well, Eric will be able to get the medical benefits so that he can get enrolled in Tricare and take advantage of that.

And just something as simple as him getting an ID card so that he has access to base for whatever reason, you know, to - you know, if something happens to me or just to get on base, you know, to go shopping at the commissary or whatnot. You know, if I were to happen to get deployed, you know, now I would get family separation pay, which hasn't happened in the past. And then if I were to get stationed overseas, then it becomes a little bit easier to be able to bring him with us when we move.

HOBSON: So are you satisfied now, Jeff? Do you feel as though you have the same rights completely as straight service members?

MUELLER: Absolutely not. All 50 states still don't have marriage equality, and so service members that don't live in a state that offers same-sex marriage, we have to travel somewhere to be able to get married, which, you know, isn't that big of a deal, but, you know, even more so than that, there are states where my marriage isn't recognize, and so they won't give us the same benefits or the same, you know, even hospital visitation if we're traveling and something happens.

So there's still work to be done, you know, on the marriage equality front so that same-sex service members can have those equal benefits across the board.

HOBSON: When you got into the military 12 years ago, did you think the change would happen this fast?

MUELLER: Probably not. You know, when I was in college, I gave a speech on why I thought don't ask, don't tell should be repealed. It kind of seemed like a pipe dream at the time. Then obviously now, within two years, that's gone. I can get married and have the federal government recognize it. You know, I think the process is definitely speeding up, and as we see more and more states start to embrace full equality, I'm very hopeful and happy that things are going so quickly.

HOBSON: Jeff Mueller is a major for the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Colorado Springs, and he will be married to his partner next month. Jeff, thank you so much.

MUELLER: All right, thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

And we have this quick check on another story we've been following. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is resigning. This is reportedly part of a deal reached with city officials after the scandal that broke July 10th and has consumed the mayor's office in San Diego. More than a dozen women have come forward alleging sexual harassment by Filner.

He took a leave of absence to go through a week-long treatment program. He left the program early. Council President Todd Gloria will reportedly take over the mayor's position. A special election could come in the next few months, again reports that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is resigning. Take a quick break, more with the latest news coming up, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.