Feds Ordered to Pay Full Severance to Gay Soldiers

Servicemen and -women discharged under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' walked away with only half the standard severance pay.

This latest ruling is a small token for the gay servicemen and -women who lost their careers over their personal lives. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Gay and lesbian soldiers discharged under the now defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” mandate were as a matter of policy awarded only half of the Armed Forces’ standard severance pay. However, this week a landmark ruling in a class-action lawsuit means that those same soldiers will now collect their full entitled payments.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought the suit against the federal government, representing 181 gay and lesbian servicepeople who were forced out of their military careers for no other reason than “homosexuality.” Though they received the title of honorable discharge, their separation money was just 50 percent of what a heterosexual-identifying soldier would have received.

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According to the ACLU, the money recouped by the soldiers named in the lawsuit will come to approximately $2.4 million.

Richard Collins, the lead plaintiff in the case, was a staff sergeant in the Air Force who served for nine years until he was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). In a fortuitous moment that ended his career, Collins was spied by a coworker receiving a kiss from his boyfriend while stopped in his car off base.

In his public statement, Collins says, “This means so much to those of us who dedicated ourselves to the military, only to be forced out against our will for being who we are. We gave all we had to our country, and just wanted the same dignity and respect for our service as any other veterans.”

DADT was in effect from 1993 to 2011, but the ACLU lawsuit will only recoup lost severance pay for those soldiers unfairly discharged from November 10, 2004 onward because of the law’s statute of limitations.

Still, the decision comes on the heels of another small step towards acceptance of gay and lesbian soldiers by the Armed Forces. This week the Marine Corps issued an all-hands memo ordering that spouse’s social clubs, which operate on Marine Corps’ bases, must allow same-sex partners of enlisted soldiers equal access to membership.

According to NBCNews, the move was prompted by an Army scandal last week, where Ashley Broadway, the legal wife of a female Army lieutenant, was denied access to a wives’ social club because she’s one half of a same-sex couple. Broadway told the news outlet she’s encouraged by the Marines’ policy to remain nondiscriminatory and hopes that the Army comes around to taking a similar stance.

In the past year, other small milestones have included the president's endorsement of marriage equality and a recent LifeWay Research poll, which stated that the number of Americans who believe homosexuality is a sin has decreased significantly, rendering them a minority. These evolving attitudes could be setting the stage for major policy changes, most specifically the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act this spring by the Supreme Court. If that happens, same-sex military couples could finally see the equal allocation of spousal benefits that's afforded to heterosexual couples.

The fight for LGBT equality continues to be a lengthy and arduous road, one that’s not going to end in a single victorious fell swoop. But in these many small victories along the way, a bigger picture can be gleaned; we’re moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction. Next stop, the Supreme Court.

Do you think the Supreme Court hearing this spring will result in the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act? Let us know in the Comments.

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