He told her he was sorry, but Shannon and Casey couldn’t come to the retreat because under DOMA, they aren’t considered married. “But he gave me workbooks to take home,” says Shannon.
The couple was married by Foxboroough Town Clerk Bob Cutler . Nine states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage. But under DOMA, the federal government does not, and military personnel are federal employees.
The Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, defines marriage as the legal union of a man and a woman. Gay and lesbian groups say it denies them equal protection.
Full benefits for same-sex partners in the military, such as health care and housing, would require the repeal of DOMA. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the law’s constitutionality this month. The Obama administration abandoned its defense of the law in 2011.
When she was teaching, Casey had her own health insurance, but when she quit after the twins were born, she was not allowed to go onto her wife’s policy. She pays nearly $700 a month for what she calls minimal coverage. The twins are covered under Shannon’s policy.
And if Shannon needed base housing, she’d be assigned to officers’ bachelor’s quarters, even though she is part of a family of four.
The McLaughlins live in a Victorian in Foxborough that they bought and renovated. There are family photographs everywhere, and a large playroom filled with toys and books. In 2011, Shannon was elected to the Foxborough Planning Board for a three-year term.
Casey, who was impregnated with Shannon’s eggs and donated sperm, is “Mama,” and Shannon is “Baba.” On a recent afternoon, Shannon is still dressed in her work clothes: the Army fatigues she wears in her Wellesley office. In between the demands of Grant and Grace, the couple sit on a couch talking about Panetta’s announcement and the upcoming Supreme Court case.
They are also the lead plaintiffs in McLaughlin v. Panetta, in federal court in Massachusetts, and stayed pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case on DOMA. The lawsuit seeks medical, dental, housing, and survivor’s benefits for military spouses in gay marriages.
“It was a difficult decision for me, because you don’t want to sue your employer,” says Shannon. “And for the most part, the military has been very good to me. But I just want Casey to be treated the same as other military wives, and I feel it’s disrespectful that she’s not."
In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama touched on the issue, while Tracey Hepner, cofounder of Military Partners and Families Coalition, sat with first lady Michelle Obama. Hepner is married to the military’s first openly gay or lesbian general, Army Brigadier General Tammy Smith.
“We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families — gay and straight,” the president said.
Afterward, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force issued a statement calling for Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act: “Every day, LGBT service members put their lives on the line, yet they and their families continue to be treated as ‘less than.’ This is unconscionable.”
Shannon McLaughlin loves her job and is proud of her military record. “I’m really dedicated to serving my country,” she says. “It’s very rewarding.” But because of the difficulties with her marital status, she has thought about leaving the military, should the Defense of Marriage Act be upheld.
“It is something I struggle with,” she says. “I don’t want anything extra that others don’t have. Just let me provide for my wife like any other person in the military.”
She notes that Casey has to deal with what other service wives deal with: weekend drills, possible deployment, weeks of annual training, and the “usual run-of-the mill state emergencies” that occur. Shannon, for instance, was called upon to work the recent blizzard with other National Guard members.
As she speaks, Casey holds Shannon’s hand and nods. “The jargon that they’re using to justify us not being equal is the same toxic argument they used when interracial couples wanted to be recognized, Casey says. “That to me is revolting.”
But she’s optimistic that the Supreme Court will reject DOMA. “The faith and hope I have, being an American, is that the court is going to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.” With that, she goes to spoon some more yogurt into two hungry toddlers’ mouths.
Bella English can be reached at email@example.com