The US Marine Corps has issued advice to its legal staff to say that spouses clubs operating on its military bases must admit gay couples, or will have to leave.
The Marines are the first to tackle such issues in the wake of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, back in 2011, which banned gay service members from being open about their sexuality, reports the Associated Press.
This advice comes after an issue arose at the Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where a gay spouse was denied entry to the spouses club operating there.
Ashley Broadway, the wife of Lieutenant Colonel, Heather Mack, was declined entry into the officers’ spouses club.
The Marine Corps commandant’s Staff Judge Advocate sent an email to legal offices throughout the Marines, saying that the Fort Bragg incident ”caused quite a stir” and warned, “We do not want a story like this developing in our backyard.”
The email went on to say that, if spouses clubs wish to continue to operate on the bases, they must adhere to a non-discrimination policy, which includes race, religion, gender, age, disability and national origin.
It suggested that the Fort Bragg spouses club’s decision to bar gay spouses did not fit with that policy:
“We would interpret a spouses club’s decision to exclude a same-sex spouse as sexual discrimination because the exclusion was based upon the spouse’s sex.”
A spokesperson for the Marine Corps, Captain Eric Flanagan said that the Marines cannot directly control the actions of independent organisations, but said:
“We expect that all who are interested in supporting Marine Corps Family Readiness would be welcome to participate and will be treated with dignity and respect.”
The Defense Department had not issued general advice across the board, and instead said that the Fort Bragg spouses club was still adhering to the non-discrimination policy, which did not yet include sexual orientation.
Stephen Peters of the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for partners and spouses of gay service members, and was one of several organisation advocating for Lieutenant Colonel Mack’s wife. praised the Marine Corps. He said:
“The Marine Corps putting its best foot forward is great news,” he said. “They’re being proactive about this.”
He went on to say that his organisation would urge the Pentagon to move forward with action to make all military spouses clubs open to all. He continued: ”You can’t have different standards with the different branches.”
The spouses club did say it would reconsider its membership criteria at an upcoming meeting.