Friday, October 16, 2009

Army Disciminates Against Bereaved Poly Family, ACLU Saves the Day

I was dismayed but not surprised to have learned just yesterday,  via an alert subscriber to a poly email list focused on poly southerners, about the following story reported there.  It well illustrates that Don't Ask Don't Tell is not the only discriminatory military law that needs to be put out of our misery.

Apparently a long-term M/F/M/F poly quad with several children was doing what I've believed for a long time could be an entirely sensible solution to the burden of extended isolation and loneliness partners of deployed servicemen and servicewomen regularly have to endure. Both men were in the Army stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY, which straddles the Tennessee/Kentucky state line.

Tragically, one of the men has been killed in combat. As if this grieving family hadn't already been through enough, in the process of assigning survivor benefits the Army learned about the quad arrangement, decided to deny benefits to the widow and insisted on paternity testing to find out which man fathered the children - AND, the surviving husband in the quad faced a dishonorable discharge and loss of his career.

In the civilian world, it is my understanding that legally the father of a child is whomever is legally married to the woman who gave birth to the child. Of course, the Army operates under a different code, specifically the Uniform Code of Military (In)Justice ("UCMJ"), and it was unwilling to pay benefits to a soldier's legal child if he was not the biological father of the child.  It was reported that the widow admitted that the quad was never really sure which man is the biological father of which children because they never worried about such things.

It was also said that the Judge Advocate General office declined to get involved in defending this family. However, the good news is that the ACLU was very happy to step in and quite effectively resolved the problem, partly by threatening national media attention. Due to the ACLU's efforts the widow will get her full benefits as will all of the fallen soldier's children. Hooray!  The status of the surviving husband's threatened discharge was not mentioned, but hopefully the ACLU was able to prevent that as well.  .

Of course, this was a difficult story to keep quiet, and the remaining triad continues to experience various kinds of oppression from locals bigots so is planning to move out of the area.

I don't know whether the soldiers in question were enlisted or officers. It's long been my understanding that the UCMJ's morality laws against adultery were much more aggressively enforced as to the behavior of officers than they ever were as to that of enlisted soldiers. Someone I know who knows about such things told me within the last year that the Army is no longer prosecuting adultery, having higher priorities for which to use its resources, yet here this story is. It may be that once the family configuration was disclosed, the Army believed it was compelled to enforce it's laws.

As the practice of polyamory continues to gain popularity, more such situations may well arise. The ACLU has many more resources than does the polyamory community, so we can only hope that it will continue to step up and help out. As for the rest of we polyamorists, it would be a good idea to write the ACLU a check for as much as we can afford and make it clear the reason for the donation.

I'm sending them $100 right now. How about you?


Manda said...

This actually brought me to tears. While it doesn't shock me that the military is capable of putting a family who has already suffered so much through even more hardship and pain, it still makes me sick to my stomach.

Those children, I would bet good money, loved both of their fathers and didn't give a damn which one was their "real" dad. They still lost their father and are suffering horribly, and of course so is the rest of their family.

Sometimes I don't understand how people can be so godamn heartless and claim it's in the name of morality. Cruelty is most certainly not morale or appropriate, it's just wrong.

Gander said...

I'm so glad the ACLU took this case on and it was resolved in their favor. I think this is just a skirmish in what will be a very difficult struggle, though. As a kid I was the object of a custody battle and later adoption that changed my "paternity" status and - although this was years ago - my sense is that the civilian courts do not treat legal paternity lightly, either. It's not just a matter of who the child lives with or who the mother is married to. The law probably varies by state, but I know once my mother won the battle over me, it was like my biological father was wiped from the record - from birth certificate on down and my stepfather's name inserted. History was literally rewritten. It was a big deal, as it should be, considering the property/probate issues that could arise. As more multiple marriages and networked families come to light and "parenting" breaks off from strict biological relationships, the law has a LONG way to go to adapt.

Alejo said...

This is indeed a sad story. The perplexing part to me, though, is that free-thinking people like that would even be in the armed forces to begin with. The military community is so very conservative, I would have thought the quad would have run into all kinds of discrimination before now.

Anonymous said...

I hope the military also gives benefits to all the "illegitimate" biological children that soldiers have fathered while on overseas duty, but somehow I doubt it...

Anonymous said...

my husbands and i live in a triad and we are army. We live off post and we know that I've got one kiddo by each. and as far as my children are concerned both dads are dad, but we have to not 'throw things like this in faces' earlier this yr my seconds command notice i was a member of two diff FRGs( family readiness groups) and it became a issue..til then i was always welcome and helped out at both FRGs. this all happened right before they were both deployed and while i was pregnant with our second child. my second husband and my daughter's biological father wasn't there for the birth because of his command 'trying to be fair'. but he got to come home on R&R early to spend time with her.

I'm listed as his beneficiary not his ex wife. We lie in a house off post and i avoid other military wives mostly like the plague because most not all are nosy. I've noticed pagans are very welcoming and most of our friends are.


Anita Wagner said...

Kat, in the rest of my life I am also an Army mom and so take these matters to heart a couple of different ways. I hear from my family members that Army wives can indeed be nosy and catty and avoidance is a good strategy, though the FRG's are also very important, especially during deployment. Anyway, I think you three are wise to use an abundance of caution and not out yourselves to anyone connected to the military. I'm glad to know that pagans in the military are more accepting, and not surprised. Good luck to the three of you. If you encounter any challenges, please contact me, I'd be happy to offer help and support. -

Anita Wagner

Anonymous said...

thank you. i will.


M said...

I'm an Officer in the Army and this is something I have thought about. The military will repeal the "Don't ask don't tell policy" but they will headhunt anything they deem out of the ordinary and crush it. It kills me inside that a man dies defending the freedoms he so desired just to have his family treated like the Salem Witch Trial. It really pisses me off because I know some of those self righteous bastards who think that the way they live is the only way. Hell I'm even a christian and I live a poly life style. It's just really a shame.

Anonymous said...

This upsets me. I am a polymom in the military. We are just starting out and I am not out to alot of people. Just close friends I think of like family. The funny thing is I am Pagan and most of my circle knows as well. Most of the guess because of how close I was to the other member. So I started this journey with my husband who has always been poly. I am scared to do this because I don't want to lose my job over loving 2 people men. I weep for this man and his family. He was happy and had a good support for his family. Sometimes I just want to pack up and move far away from closed minded people.

Chris said...

All I can say is wow. I'm so glad the ACLU got involved but it truly bothers me that the military treated these poor people the way they did. My wife and I are both veterans and knew many people in the Army who were poly or swingers but were not real open about it. I just hope that no other poly folk are put in this position of being treated this way. In my opinion the military needs to be more accepting and supportive of the people who are serving.