Same-sex spouse not allowed to join group at Fort Bragg

Ashley Broadway, left, is seen here with her wife, Heather Mack, and their son, Carson.


By JENNIFER HLAD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 12, 2012

WASHINGTON — Ashley Broadway has been with Lt. Col. Heather Mack for 15 years. The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” allowed the couple to finally be open about their relationship. Once they were married in November, Broadway was excited to join the military spouse organizations at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“I thought, now I can get involved,” said Broadway, who volunteers and works with military families and is the director of family affairs for the American Military Partner Association. “I had always wanted to get involved with something here locally.”

She sent an email to the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses and asked to join. She didn’t hear back, so she called, then emailed. About two weeks later, she got her answer: No.

Broadway said the social group – which is not an official military organization -- told her she could not join because while she has a marriage certificate, she doesn’t have a military spouse ID. The military does not recognize same-sex marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act and does not offer benefits to same-sex spouses, including military spouse IDs.

However, Broadway has access to base with a card that indicates she is a caregiver for her son.

The AMPA said the decision to deny Broadway membership is “a direct attack on same-sex spouses of service members” and that other same-sex spouses have had no problem joining similar organizations at other installations. Each organization establishes its own bylaws and membership requirements.

Broadway said she was shocked to be denied membership, particularly because she hadn’t seen any ID card requirement in the group’s bylaws or on its website. The bylaws, provided by the AMPA, do not mention an ID card requirement and say that membership “shall be open to all eligible personnel regardless of race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability or creed.”

The association “will not seek to deprive individuals of their civil rights,” the bylaws state.

The website says that spouses of “active duty commissioned and warrant officers of the armed forces, commissioned or warrant officers, spouses of retired or deceased commissioned and warrant officers, family members 18 years or older residing in the household of a commissioned or warrant officer, and spouses of commissioned and warrant officers of the Reserve components and National Guard living in the Fort Bragg area and who has [sic] an active ID card” are eligible for membership.

Broadway says the clause about the ID card was added after she was denied, in what she believes was an effort to exclude same-sex spouses. The membership application online does not ask about an ID card.

The Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses did not respond to questions from Stars and Stripes by press time.

Broadway wrote an open letter to the organization’s president and posted it on AMPA’s website. The group also added a petition in support of Broadway and other same-sex spouses who may want to join the Ft. Bragg group.

Bianca Strzalkowski, the 2011 military spouse of the year and the current deputy director of membership for Blue Star Families, said she was extremely upset when she heard about Broadway’s situation.

“This is a time when we should be supporting one another unconditionally,” Strzalkowski said. “Instead, a group of women who have walked in the same exact journey as Ashley and her wife are now excluding her. I cannot understand that.”

Broadway thought the Fort Bragg group “was going to be more like my sorority, where everyone loved everyone,” she said.

In the open letter posted online, Broadway wrote that she was “overjoyed” when she read that the club is “made up of military spouses dedicated to the tradition of the Army, while moving toward its vision of tomorrow.”

The website says the members of the group “have proven to be modern-day heroes because of the countless hours of dedicated service and devotion to the military families and community.”

Their rejection of Broadway goes against all that, Strzalkowski said.

“The general population of military spouses stand with each other. We’re all one team,” she said. “If they’re going to say they’re going to support spouses, support all spouses.”

There’s no legal requirement or reason for this or any spouse clubs to deny access or decline membership to same-sex spouses, said David McKean, legal director for OutServe-SLDN, an organization for active-duty lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender servicemembers.

In fact, similar military spouse organizations at other posts and bases have welcomed same-sex spouses, he said.

“It seems completely unnecessary to create artificial barriers” to entry into the group, he said. “It’s not like the ID card is what makes you a spouse.”

Broadway said she would join the group if they allowed it.

“I would go in there with as much of a positive attitude and outlook as I possibly could,” she said. “I want everyone to see that my family is no different than their family.”