Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Breaking: Bay Area service member among plaintiffs in DOMA lawsuit


SLDN's Aubrey Sarvis said the military should provide equal benefits to same-sex couples; it is prohibited from doing so because of the Defense of Marriage Act. (Photo: Bob Roehr)
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A Bay Area Army reservist is among several plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act and its use in denying to gay service members spousal benefits equal to that given to their straight counterparts.

SLDN filed the lawsuit, McLaughlin v. U.S. , in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, in Boston, on October 20, one month after the federal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law was repealed. DADT prohibited openly gay people from serving in the military.

There are eight plaintiff couples named in the lawsuit, including Major Shannon McLaughlin, a 13-veteran and active duty member of the Army National Guard in Massachusetts, who is married to her same-sex spouse, Casey McLaughlin, who is also a named plaintiff. The lawsuit notes that while the two children McLaughlin and her spouse are raising together are eligible for benefits from the military, McLaughlin's spouse is not. Weeks after the enactment of DADT repeal, the Army told McLaughlin her same-sex spouse was not eligible for benefits.

"We've been serving our country too long, working too hard, and sacrificing too much to see our families denied the same recognition, support, and benefits as our straight, married counterparts," McLaughlin said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs also include U.S. Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Victoria Hudson, a 32-year veteran of the service, and her spouse Monika Poxon of Hayward, California. Hudson and Poxon were married in California in 2008, before voters amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. They are raising their 2-year-old daughter.

Plaintiffs also include Vietnam War veteran Colonel Stewart Bornhoft and his spouse Stephen McNabb. Bornhoft entered military service in 1965 when he entered the U.S. Military Academy. In 2008, Bornhoft and McNabb were married in San Diego, and this month, a few weeks after repeal of DADT was enacted, Bornhoft applied in San Diego to include McNabb as his spouse to receive military benefits and was denied.

Best known among the plaintiffs is active duty Army Captain Steve Hill, who is serving in Iraq and who posed a question about DADT repeal to Republican presidential candidates via YouTube during a recent national televised debate and the audience booed him. Hill married his spouse, Joshua Snyder, in Washington, D.C., in May. The Army denied Hill's request for spousal benefits for Snyder.

The lawsuit argues that DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection to the plaintiffs and the 10th Amendment rights that empower the states to regulate and define marriage for their citizens.

"We are not advocating any special treatment for the families of gay and lesbian service members or veterans," said SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis, in a statement released Thursday, "but we want to underscore that all military families should be treated the same when it comes to recognition, benefits and family support."

National LGBT organizations praised the move by SLDN.

"Today's legal action shines a light on the difficulties that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act creates for lesbian and gay military families," Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement.

Abbe Lowell and Christopher Man of Chadbourne and Parke are serving as SLDN's pro bono co-counsel.

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