Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, commanding officer of Air Station Miami, for nearly 13 years and currently serves as chapter director for Blue Star Families in Miami, Fla.
Written by Shelley Kimball.
A few months ago, I took my son to go get his military identification card. I was caught off-guard by the emotions that sprang up in me. Suddenly, I remembered myself in the waiting room with my Dad. I was elated to finally get that official card so, like my two brothers and my parents, I could join in officially. When they handed me my card, still warm from the laminator, I remember the feeling of pride welling up in me.
I was that kid who sought out the ID checker at the front of the exchange to show my card. I was a card-carrying member of a military family, and it thrilled me to no end to show it.
So when Joey got his card and he turned to me with a huge grin and said, “It’s still warm,” my eyes welled with tears. The man helping us in the office caught my emotion, and congratulated all of us on such a momentous occasion.
On the drive home, I thought of this rite of passage as a momentous occasion for a different reason. I instantly though of Meg Rapelye and Master Chief Petty Officer Kat Goguen, a Coast Guard family I met at the Mother’s Day Tea at the White House this past May. I knew something so easy for my 10-year-old son to get was a goal they had been hoping for years to reach. And I knew their day was arriving.
A Pentagon order allowed same sex partners of active duty military members to receive ID cards beginning in September. However, the National Guard in six states (Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas) is still fighting the Pentagon order and refusing to grant ID cards.
Recently, the Coast Guard also amended its equal opportunity and anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policies to include sexual orientation and genetic information.
“Maintaining workplaces that are free from harassment and discrimination is essential to our readiness and to ensure we remain, Semper Paratus, Always Ready,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp wrote in the order.
The American Military Partner Association has publicly urged the Defense Department to follow the Coast Guard’s lead.
For Rapelye, a military ID as a same-sex spouse means validation and recognition as a Coast Guard family. She and her partner, Kat, are planning to marry on Nov. 29. They said they will be in the ID office on Dec. 2. Not having an ID card has brought uncertainty and feelings of inferiority among other military families, Rapelye said.
“Without access to certain things that require an ID card, our participation in many aspects of military family life has been significantly limited. For example, our daughter goes to a CDC on an Army post and not having an ID card at certain times limited my ability to access post to pick her up.” Rapelye said. “Besides this, there are minor inconveniences like not being able to shop at exchanges, commissaries or access MWR resources, but not having access to even the minor things is an unfortunate reminder of the second-class status that our relationship had until now.”
Many of the uncertainties revolved around healthcare for their family, Rapelye said. For example, if she were to have a biological child before the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Supreme Court decision to overturn Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, she would have been forced to find – and pay for – private healthcare. Like many military spouses, she has had to resign her employment due to a PCS, and with that goes her healthcare coverage.
“Subsequently, any biological child of mine would not receive Tricare benefits or CDC access at all if I do not have full spousal benefits. Once we are married and I have an ID card, our family has the security of knowing we have access to healthcare and childcare no matter where the Coast Guard takes us,” Rapelye said. “This security is what we look forward to most and will be a huge relief to our family.”
For Rapelye and Goguen, the recent changes in policy have had a significant effect on their sense of security as a military family.
“Coast Guard families headed by same-sex couples have always been there, serving alongside your families, enduring PCS moves, celebrating advancements and on the pier to welcome cutters returning to homeport, but we were relegated to the sidelines, hiding in the shadows because of the laws and regulations in place,” Rapelye said. “With the repeal of both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, we are thrilled to be able to more openly support our Coastie wives and husbands and for our families to more securely face the future together.”
Lt. Cmdr. Shaun Edwards and Leo Bello are also looking forward to the security to their family unit. They married on Oct. 25, and they have already applied for Bello’s coverage.
“The petty officer entering him into DEERS didn’t give it a second thought and was even excited to be entering a same sex marriage for the first time and congratulated us,” Edwards said.
Enrolling in Tricare is a priority, Edwards said, especially in Bello’s employment search.
“Leo will be able to pursue a job that he would more likely enjoy upon transfer instead of trying to find a job with decent medical coverage,” Edwards said.
Before the change in policy, Bello would not even have had access to a military installation without Edwards as an escort, and even then, they were uneasy.
“Even when we would be on a base he would be pretty apprehensive about having someone seeing us together and asking questions,” Edwards said, “So he would rarely be willing to go onto a military base for the exchange or commissary.”
But now, they can move through their lives together with fewer concerns, Edwards said.
“There are many same sex partners that have already been in a long-term relationship like us. We have gone through most of my career being cautious about where we live so we wouldn’t be around other Coast Guard personnel, acting like we didn’t know each other if we would be in a store and ran into someone from work. I couldn’t take him to Coast Guard events such as Christmas parties,” Edwards said. “Now we can go about living our lives with a little less stress.”
Allowing same-sex military partners access to ID cards was a turning point for improving these military families’ lives, according to Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association.
“These modern military spouses finally have access to vitally needed benefits that help to ease the challenges of serving our nation. From major benefits like health care and insurance through Tricare, to smaller benefits like access to the commissary and exchanges, life has dramatically improved for these military spouses and their families,” Peters said. “There are certainly still challenges that these families still face, but recognition in September was a huge step forward in equality.”
Peters said the inclusion of these military family members means more than just added benefits. It is an acknowledgement of their equal devotion to military life, he said.
“When all is said and done, Coast Guard families come in all shapes and sizes,” Peters said. “Regardless of their skin color, gender, or orientation, they are sacrificing and serving our great nation and deserve our sincere appreciation and support.”
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.