In 2010, Congress passed a law to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), a policy that had been in place since it was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. Under DADT, service members could not be asked whether they were homosexual or bisexual, but they were also prohibited from discussing that topic.
Where a service member's orientation was made public, either intentionally or inadvertently, he or she was still subject to discharge under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In fact, from 1994 through 2009, a period when DADT was in effect, over 13,000 service members were discharged for homosexual conduct.
What's the Current Policy?
The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell formally took effect on September 20, 2011, after the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff adopted new policies and certified that the repeal of DADT would not affect military readiness. Under the current policy, homosexuals and bisexuals can serve openly in the U.S. military and will not be barred from recruitment or promotions or face a discharge on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Those who were previously discharged based on sexual orientation can request a discharge review and upgrade by contacting the review board for their particular service. For example, service members discharged from the Army under DADT can apply online for a review of their discharge. Service members previously discharged under DADT can also apply for re-entry, but they aren't eligible for back pay or other credits for time lost.
Effect of DADT's Repeal on Other Policies
The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell has also affected other policies within the military, such as those relating to:
With the repeal of DADT in place, all military policies are to be enforced equally, in a manner that is sexual-orientation neutral. So, for example, a policy prohibiting certain displays of affection while in uniform (such as kissing or holding hands) must be applied to a same-sex couple the same way as it would be applied to a heterosexual couple. Also, incidents of sexual harassment or assault are to be addressed the same regardless of the sexual orientation of the service members involved.
Effect of DADT's Repeal on Benefits
Certain military benefits were initially applied unequally following the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This was because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the time required federal law to only recognize opposite-sex marriages. This affected certain dependent-related benefits for same-sex service members including, but not limited to:
However, in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, and the military now extends all benefits, including dependent-related benefits, to same-sex spouses. That being said, the military only recognizes marriages that are lawfully entered and not all states recognize same-sex marriage. Service members seeking to obtain same-sex spousal benefits must therefore be married in jurisdictions that allow same-sex marriage.
This may require traveling to another state, but the military has implemented policies allowing service members to take non-chargeable leave for the purpose of obtaining a lawful same-sex marriage. This policy was further described in a Department of Defense memorandum in 2013.
If you're interested in learning more about the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and its affect on certain rights and benefits for service members, including discharge upgrades, you should speak with a military attorney or a civilian attorney who specializes in military law.
Contact a qualified military law attorney to help you with military-related issues.