Married, gay service members sue government

A man who is active-duty in the Navy, and only gave his name as Matt, wears a shirt being signed by others that reads "I survived D.A.D.T." (don't ask, don't tell) shortly before midnight during a celebration for the end of the policy, Sept. 19, 2011, in a bar in San Diego.
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

BOSTON - A group of married gay current and former military personnel sued the federal government on Thursday, seeking equal recognition, benefits and the same support as married heterosexual couples who serve in the military.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston says the government's Defense of Marriage Act violates their constitutional rights and asks the military to recognize their legal marriages.

"This case is about one thing, plain and simple," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which filed the suit. "It's about justice for gay and lesbian service members and their families in our armed forces rendering the same military service, making the same sacrifices, and taking the same risks to keep our nation secure at home and abroad."

The lawsuit names as defendants Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

Under current law, the Pentagon is required to ignore same-sex marriages.

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The Pentagon will evaluate the complaint and consult with the Justice Department, while at the same time continuing to follow the law, a spokesman said in a statement.

The spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, pointed out that service members can already designate some benefits to people of their choosing regardless of sexual orientation, but other benefits are restricted by law.

"In connection with `Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal, the Defense Department is engaged in a careful and deliberate review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to other individuals including same-sex partners," the statement said.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Maj. Shannon McLaughlin, a judge advocate general in the Massachusetts National Guard.

Another plaintiff is Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard.

Current policies cause "undue financial and emotional hardship," she said.

Morgan said she has cancer and is worried that her spouse and their daughter would be unable to receive survivor's benefits. "We are only asking for equitable treatment as a recognized family," she said.