the House’s only openly gay memberone of the House’s two openly gay members, Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin, was granted permission to bring her partner Lauren Azar on a congressional military flight. In line with Pentagon policy, which only allows members to bring legally defined spouses on military flights when there is room and when it is “necessary for protocol purposes,” Azar was initially barred from boarding the flight. Baldwin and Azar have exchanged vows, but their home state of Wisconsin does not recognize same-sex marriage. No matter, though: Clinton’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act would have made state recognition null and void to the Department of Defense.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped in and appealed to Defense Sec. Robert Gates. Gates requested a formal letter of authorization from Pelosi, which allowed him (and the Pentagon) to conveniently sidestep taking responsibility for setting precedent on the rights of same-sex couples in Congress. Azar was subsequently allowed on the flight, but the Pentagon made crystal clear that such an allowance does not reflect any change in policy.
“This is not an issue of DOD regulations,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. “Secretary Gates honored a request from Speaker Pelosi to make an exception to the House rules…But that’s really as far as it goes…This should not be viewed as a precedent which would now permit all nonspouse travel. That said, Secretary Gates will, on a case-by-case basis, entertain the speaker’s future requests to make exceptions.”
While guidelines don’t allow wiggle room for same-sex partners, adult children are granted access to military flights if a spouse is unavailable to travel. Of course, taxpayers foot the bill for all this companion travel.
Although Baldwin herself isn’t commenting, let’s hope she doesn’t let this rest as a special case or a pattern of special cases. Exceptions are one thing, but many exceptions over time just make room for systematic discrimination.