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Spouses club relents, says lesbian Army wife can be 'full member'

Ashley Broadway, left, is pictured with her wife, Lt. Col. Heather Mack and their 2-year-old son.
Ashley Broadway, left, is pictured with her wife, Lt. Col. Heather Mack and their 2-year-old son.Courtesy Ashley Broadway

Hours after same-sex Army wife Ashley Broadway was named Fort Bragg's 2013 “spouse of the year,” the on-base spouses club — that has for two months rebuffed Broadway's bid to join — fully reversed course and invited her "to become a full member," according to emails sent to NBC News and Broadway.

The decision comes one week after the Association of Bragg Officers' Spouses (ABOS) extended Broadway — who is married to Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack — a "special guest membership," an invitation she declined and called "extremely demeaning."

"After further reviewing the (club's) constitution, by-laws and internal procedures, the ABOS Board felt that in order to immediately support all military Officer spouses who are eligible for ABOS membership a more inclusive definition of spouse was needed. Therefore, any Spouse of an active duty commissioned or warrant Officer with a valid marriage certificate from any state or district in the United States is eligible for ABOS membership," the club's board said in a statement.

"ABOS does not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability, creed, or sexual orientation. ABOS would like to publicly invite Ms. Broadway to apply for full membership to ABOS. It is and always has been our mission to support all military families."

In an email to Broadway — shared with NBC News — the club said, "We would like to offer you to become a full member of ABOS."

"I will go ahead and submit my application," Broadway said in response to the invitation. "I need to educate some of the naysayers that are in that group and show them my family is just like their family."

In the online election held Tuesday, Broadway captured the Fort Bragg vote “by a country mile,” said Babette Maxwell, founder of Military Spouse magazine and the Military Spouse of the Year award. Ballot totals were not revealed.

As one of the 154 base-level winners, Broadway now is eligible to be nominated for Army “spouse of the year.”

“A lot of people who voted never me met or talked to me or knew me from Adam. I know it was a statement to the Obama Administration, to Secretary (of Defense Leon) Panetta, to Senator (Chuck) Hagel — if he is confirmed (as defense secretary) — to the Pentagon and, really, to America that, yes, she is a military spouse and she needs to be recognized,” Broadway told NBC News.

“There are things the government can do right now to make life a hell of a lot easier than what it is currently for those who are in same-sex marriages in the military,” she added. “It was a lot of people saying, ‘Enough’s enough.’ ”

Broadway’s rejection from the Fort Bragg officers’ spouses club sparked the U.S. Marine Corps to issue on Jan. 9 a pro-gay, branch-wide directive. On Jan. 16, her bid drew the Pentagon’s attention. The next day, the on-base spouses club offered Broadway a "special guest membership" – an invitation she declined, calling it “extremely demeaning.” 

Broadway married Mack, her 15-year companion, in November — their first chance to hold a formal ceremony after the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the policy that kept gays from openly serving in the military. The couple has a 2-year-old son and Mack gave birth to their second child, a daughter, on Tuesday. 

“People got one vote per email address — one ballot for the person you wanted to represent you. I think people would be unwilling to, quote-unquote, throw their vote away on simply doing what was popular,” Maxwell said. “There was a significant amount of meaning in what they were doing when they voted for Ashley.

“Removing her a bit from the press and recognition she’s received the last few months, Ashley — more importantly — has a platform to benefit a large number of spouses, and that’s what people want to see happen,” Maxwell added. “The winners are chosen based on their merits, their accomplishments and what they intend to do for the community in the year to come.”

Broadway has volunteered to tutor soldiers’ children in reading, briefed inbound Army families on local school districts, and helped transferring soldiers with housing-location decisions.

“When I was denied membership, I asked to speak to the club’s board. I was convinced that if they’d just sit down with me for half an hour, if I could talk to them about what I’ve been doing, what I’ll be doing in the future, they would see what an asset I would be to the group,” Broadway said.

The meeting was not granted.

“That was the most frustrating thing,” she said.

Before its decision late Friday to relent and offer Broadway full membership, the ABOS board had maintained Broadway was never rejected because “a formal application was never filed,” and that she simply had inquired about the eligibility of a same-sex spouse and was told the club would need “time to look at the issue.” 

Online voting for the next round of the 2013 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year — the branch level — will take place Feb. 5. The overall winner, elected from the branch finalists, will be revealed May 9.

"I never thought in a million years I would be the one to advance the cause. If that’s what it’s going to take to get attention for all the military same-sex spouses, then so be it," Broadway said. "But I do take this (Bragg 'spouse of the year' award) very seriously. And we'll see where it goes from here." 

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