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Pentagon opts not to intervene in ban of lesbian by Fort Bragg spouses club

Ashley Broadway, left, married her 15-year companion, Lt. Col. Heather Mack, in November — their first chance to hold a formal ceremony after the 2011 repeal of
Ashley Broadway, left, married her 15-year companion, Lt. Col. Heather Mack, in November — their first chance to hold a formal ceremony after the 2011 repeal ofCourtesy Ashley Broadway

The Pentagon is endorsing a move by leaders at Fort Bragg to stay out of a decision made by its on-base spouses club to refuse membership to the lesbian spouse of a female Army lieutenant, a Department of Defense spokesman said Wednesday.

The legal basis for the Pentagon’s stance is a department-wide “instruction” drafted in 2008, three years before the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, said Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the Pentagon. That directive ensures that “non-federal entities” operating on U.S. military installations don’t discriminate on the basis of “race, color, creed, sex, age, disability, or national origin.” There is no mention of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

NBC News reported Dec. 14 that Ashley Broadway, the newlywed wife of Lt. Col. Heather Mack, was blocked from joining the spouses club at Fort Bragg, N.C., sparking accusations from a national military spouses organization that Broadway was being blackballed only because she is a lesbian.

The Army’s handling of that matter runs counter to a directive issued Jan. 9 by Marine Corps leaders who ordered that same-sex spouses be allowed to participate in spouses clubs at all Marine bases. 

“The Officer Spouses' Club at Ft. Bragg is in compliance with the DOD instruction,” Christensen said. “When you look at the instruction there are a few things it has to meet. As long as they meet those criteria, they’re allowed to meet on the base.”

Broadway and Mack have been together for 15 years, have a 2-year-old son together and Mack is expected to deliver their second child this month. They married in November — their first chance to hold a formal ceremony after the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” On Wednesday, Broadway said the Pentagon's position only added fuel to a larger battle for equal rights being waged within the U.S. military by other same-sex spouses. 

“This is no longer about me joining this officers club. This is about the Pentagon and the Department of Defense and the Department of Army telling the country that it is OK to discriminate against gay and lesbian service members and their families,” Broadway told NBC News.

“This is not the end. I’m not going to drop this. I’m not going to sit back and take the discrimination when I know good and well the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense can sign rights today that would also authorize military IDs and extend housing (to the same-sex spouses of service members),” she added. “The decisions here at Fort Bragg, and in the Department of Army, have showed absolutely no gesture of: ‘Hey, you’re important and this is discrimination.’ If anything, they’ve shown they absolutely don’t care. Disappointed? Extremely. Frustrated? Extremely. Surprised? No.”

Broadway, meanwhile, has been nominated for the Fort Bragg Military Spouse of the Year award, a precursor to the Army Military Spouse of the Year award and — perhaps, ultimately — the 2013 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year award, which represents all branches. She is one of about 10 Bragg spouses nominated for the award from that base. Online voting for the base-level award takes place Jan. 22. 

Mack has received overwhelming support within her Army unit at Fort Bragg, Broadway said. 

The Pentagon's position on the Fort Bragg matter is legally viable despite the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” because, Christensen said, the Department of Defense still follows the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That law defined marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. Under DOMA, the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages and doesn’t offer same-sex military spouses some benefits given to heterosexual spouses.

Asked if the Marine Corps’ recent directive banning the discrimination of same-sex spouses at its spouses clubs conflicts with the Pentagon’s stance, Christensen responded: “The DOD policy has not changed.”

But Mary Reding, a California attorney and president of Military Spouse JD Network — the largest association of military spouse attorneys — contends that the Pentagon's legal hair-splitting contradicts the spirit of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

"While the Army's position is defensible based on outdated internal policies,” Reding said, "the current climate and the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' would indicate a shift in acceptance that should be a catalyst for an immediate review of discriminatory practices in all policy areas." 

Related: Marine Corps orders spouses clubs to allow same-sex members

Related: Same-sex wife of Army officer banned from Fort Bragg spouses club