Last month I discussed the flare up at Ft. Bragg, in which a spouse of an LTC was denied membership in the Bragg officer’s spouse club because she did not have a spouse/dependent ID, though it was fairly transparent that she was denied membership because of her sexual orientation, which in turn kept her from having an ID card. Ashley Broadway, the wife of LTC Heather Mack, was quoted on NBCNews.com, saying “After ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ I thought, wow, I can finally be part of something, finally give back to the military community in ways other than just writing a check.”
Well, it seems that the O-Spouses’ club thought that her charitable contributions would better serve the community elsewhere.
The dust up over the same-sex partner of a servicemember being denied membership in a private, though on-post, club triggered the Marine Commandant's Staff Judge Advocate to caution against discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the recent memo to JAG offices across the branch, the Staff Judge Advocate specifically mentioned the Bragg imbroglio.
However, the Pentagon has backed the leadership at Bragg, which has chosen to remain out of the fray. The story goes: if the spouses’ club opts to exclude Broadway based on her sexual orientation, favorite Beatle, hair color or shade of lipstick, they can. Their reasoning: 1) The Defense of Marriage Act does not recognize same-sex unions, and does not grant same-sex partners/spouses benefits or a dependent ID, 2) It is a private club, and 3) Sexual orientation is not an Equal Opportunity protected class.
In short, their denying Ms. Broadway membership was legal. Perhaps distasteful, probably discriminatory…but legal.
The Pentagon and the Army followed the law.
And Ms. Broadway isn’t happy about it.
Now, after adopting the unofficial mantle of LGBT military spokesperson, Ms. Broadway seems to have interpreted the repeal of DADT 14 months ago to mean: “Tell Everyone! They don’t even have to ask! Tell them, as widely and as publically as possible! Fly the Rainbow Flag as often, as prominently and as heartily as you can! But most importantly: bring a deluge of shame and embarrassment down upon anyone who doesn’t fully buy into your lifestyle!”
Maybe not to that degree, of course. But all the recent media attention didn't just happen. And this is what I find indecorous. Not her sexuality. Not her lifestyle. Her methods.
She had her day in court, and more than had her say. And she didn’t get her way. But rather that contacting her representative legislators to get the law changed, and appealing to their sense of equality and decency, she seems to want to pull rank and launch a ‘mandate by media’ campaign with the folks at NBCNews.com and others. She just seems to have an uncanny knack for stirring up as much controversy and making as much noise as she can. She certainly has made a name for herself in her two short months of being a military spouse. But in the process, she probably has made more than a few folks' lives miserable.
She was recently quoted on NBCNews.com as saying:
“This is no longer about me joining this officers club…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)…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.”
With apologies to Ms. Broadway, but this is not about the Pentagon nor the DOD nor the Army telling anyone anything. It involves them abiding by the law.
Just as we are very cautious about judicial activism (judges changing or reinterpreting the existing law rather than having the legislature do so), we should be even more cautious about Pentagon or DOD activism. Ms. Broadway seems to want the DOD to ignore, change or supercede the law. Maybe it’s a bad law. Maybe it’s going to change. Maybe soon. But it’s the law.
Again from NBCNews.com: “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."”
In other words, an attorney backing Ms. Broadway wants the Pentagon to follow the spirit of the law, not the law. I am no expert barrister, but I thought attorneys were bound to principles of legal justice through adherence to the law. I had no idea that passing the California Bar made attorneys there adroit interpreters of the spirit of the law. “But your honor, my client was following the spirit of the law!" or "We plead 'not guilty by reason of an outdated law'!" I appreciate that the law often employs ambiguous terms, but this is not one of those cases.
SCOTUS might insist upon including sexual orientation as one of the EO protected classes, and our legislature might change the law. But the petulant stomping of feet through national media won’t. If Ms. Broadway wants the law changed, there are better ways to do it than trying to embarrass her fellow military spouses at Bragg, its installation commanders and the Pentagon in a very public way.
I can only guess that the folks down at the Bragg Spouses’ O-club are decent and charitable folks who have been serving their communities for years. Perhaps they may not quite lovingly embrace the emergence of the LGBT community within the military, but they’ve probably been serving their respective installations with a quiet dignity and great devotion to our servicemenbers and their families. Now, a military spouse for all of two months deems herself the Fayetteville Rosa Parks, and is determined to cast the spouse club board, their sponsors, the Bragg command and Pentagon officials as hateful, bigoted and un-American.
I don’t see this as the best technique to foster a spirit of unity, cohesion or inclusiveness within the ranks.
In the latest (on 17 JAN 13) chapter of this ordeal, one in which Bragg spouses' club has been on the receiving end of some very vocal outrage (or vituperative posturing, depending on how you perceive it), the club tried to make nice and extend an olive branch to Ms. Broadway. According to NBC News, "The Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses (ABOS) offered Ashley Broadway an invitation to join the group as a “special guest,” but not as a full member — meaning she can attend all club functions but cannot vote on club matters. Broadway immediately rejected the overture, calling it “extremely demeaning.”"
Extremely demeaning. Extremely. Frankly, I saw it as a rather cordial, workable compromise. But I suppose "extremely demeaning" makes for a better sound bite or a more sensational headline. I'll allow that I could just be addled with an intractable hetero-insensitivity. I guess I shouldn't speculate on what Ms. Broadway finds 'extremely demeaning.' However, I am in a better position to gauge whether I find myself rolling my eyes at what I see to be a kind, or at least pacifying, gesture being met with open contempt.
When this story first emerged, I suspected that Ms. Broadway wasn’t really crestfallen at being excluded from the spouses’ O-Club, but that she might use this incident as some sort of platform to launch into a defiant tirade fueled by 15 years of DADT exclusion. It seems my suspicions were confirmed: “This is no longer about me joining this officer’s club.” Am I surprised? No.