"Our journey is not complete," said Barack Obama in one of the more memorable lines of his second Inauguration speech, "until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law." Those words have special meaning for Ashley Broadway, a lesbian married to Heather Mack, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel at Fort Bragg, N.C. Broadway and Mack felt the Army had been making steady progress toward equality until Ashley found herself at the funeral of a friend last fall.
Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson, 29, was killed on Oct. 1 on her second combat tour, along with 13 others, by a suicide bomber in eastern Afghanistan. Throughout the formal ceremony--amid the flag-draped casket, the display of Johnson's medals, the precision three-gun salute, acres of American flags and, finally, inevitably, taps--Tracy Joe Dice, Johnson's same-sex spouse, was treated as if she didn't exist. "It was a real turning point for me," says Broadway, when Dice "didn't receive the American flag or the Purple Heart or the Bronze Star Donna received that day."
So two months later, when the Association of Bragg Officers' Spouses, a semiofficial social club with a long history at the massive Army base near Fayetteville, denied Broadway membership because she lacked a military-ID card routinely issued to military spouses, the colonel's spouse cried foul. "The only reason I don't have a military ID," Broadway says, "is because I am married to a female." And when Broadway went public with the denial, the entire U.S. military took notice.
From on-post shopping to graveside--and at every stop in between--the U.S. military is still struggling to fully integrate perhaps 50,000 gay troops and their families into the ranks. The Pentagon says it is torn between two laws: a 2010 measure ending "Don't ask, don't tell" that allowed gays and lesbians in uniform to serve openly 16 months ago, and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which recognizes only heterosexual marriage. That law affects about 1,000 federal rules, including those involving military housing, medical care and surviving-spouse benefits. So while the tempest over who gets into the Fort Bragg spouses' club may seem trivial, it signals a much larger and covertly fought war inside the military.
The Marines reacted to the simmering crisis at one of the Army's largest posts by declaring on Jan. 8 that discrimination would not be tolerated on any of its posts. The leathernecks instructed their spouses' clubs--private organizations that can't exist without the military's help--to halt such discrimination. "We do not want a story like this," one Marine memo warned of the Fort Bragg case, "developing in our backyard."
"It was huge when the Marines did that," Mack says. "I explained to Ashley that wasn't one post--that it was a whole service." But Mack, a 17-year logistics officer, says she is disheartened by the Army's failure to follow the Marines' lead as well as by the Pentagon's decision not to intervene. "The Bragg club is a private group," says Ben Abel, a base spokesman, and "not in violation of current Department of Defense instructions, directives and laws." The Bragg spouses recently offered Broadway a "special guest membership," which she has declined. The club, through its board, says it does not discriminate based on "sexual orientation."