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As a history teacher, I spent years in the classroom examining the events that have defined us as a nation and as a culture, trying to make the road to monumental events — the Constitutional Convention of 1787, women’s suffrage and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — come alive for teenagers. I wanted to show them that history was not carried out by a few select headliners, but was in fact compelled by justice and shaped by countless individuals.

What I didn’t know then was that I would take a stand to become one of those individuals when my spouse, Maj. Shannon McLaughlin of the Army National Guard, and I had agreed to sue the government for equal treatment as a married couple. In October 2011, we become the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, which forces married same-sex couples like us into a second-class status, denied benefits that straight married couples receive automatically. Along with seven other same-sex couples, we made the decision to put ourselves out there, despite the very real vulnerability that we faced, with two new infants and one income — paid by the federal government.

This was not our first time taking a stand; I went to the Pentagon during the fight to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” to tell military officials how that law harmed our growing family. I had no political influence and no interest in being a lobbyist. I had only a personal story and a very pregnant belly to help make the case that I was just another military wife and mother. All we wanted was an end to the strange duality of keeping secret a marriage that was legally sanctioned in our home state, Massachusetts. All we wanted was to be recognized and treated equally.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed later that year, but we still are not treated equally. I am still excluded from the family health plan. We still have to file separate federal tax returns. I still can’t get on base to bring the kids to their medical and dental appointments or take advantage of the commissary like the wives of other soldiers. And unlike any other soldier, Shannon doesn’t get the comfort of knowing that if something happens to her, we’ll be taken care of — that the benefits that she has earned for nearly 15 years would go to her family.

The military’s hands are tied by Defense of Marriage Act. But we have hope, with the case against DOMA now in the hands of the Supreme Court, where our nation made clear that segregating schools, prohibiting women from voting, and preventing two people of different races to marry was in violation of our Constitution. Those decisions weren’t popular at the time, but they were right. And now we couldn’t imagine a nation in which it was otherwise. Let the same be true in the case before the Supreme Court right now.

On a very brisk morning in March, I stood in front of the court with a sign that I had made, displaying a huge picture of my family — Shannon, our twins, Grace and Grant (then 6 months), and our two dogs — and the words, “We are a military family.”

We are equal. My marriage is equal to any other marriage. My children’s happiness and future are as precious to me as any other mother. And if I lost my spouse I would suffer as painfully as any other military wife would suffer. Because we are equal. The time has come for the country we serve to treat us that way.

Casey McLaughlin is married to Maj. Shannon McLaughlin of the Massachusetts Army National Guard. The two are lead plaintiffs in OutServe-SLDN’s federal court challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.


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