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Lesbian spouses angered by Navy’s word choice

Mar. 22, 2013 - 04:53PM   |  
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When Ship’s Serviceman 1st Class Melissa Smith retires in April, her spouse will not receive the typical certificate of appreciation bestowed during the ceremony. The Navy, citing the Defense of Marriage Act, will not put the words “spouse” or “wife” on the certificate, even though Smith and TJ Jenkins are lawfully married women.

Instead, Jenkins said, the installation’s commander wants to use the term “partner” or “loved one,” a decision that the couple takes issue with. Jenkins said the certificate should read “spouse” or “wife” because those terms best describe their relationship.

“I am not going to settle for partner because she’s my wife,” Jenkins said.

The Navy is bound not just by its own policy, but federal law, said Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Perry.

“The Navy is committed to honoring the service and sacrifices of all our sailors and their families,” he said. “Over the course of our sailor’s careers, their spouses partners, children and families provide invaluable support to the Navy for which we’re extraordinarily grateful,”

Smith is based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., where Capt. Robert Geis is CO. Geis met with Smith on Friday morning to discuss the issue, Oceana public affairs confirmed.

Jenkins’ story is being publicized by the American Military Partner Association, an organization whose mission it is to support military families in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

The same-sex spouses of other sailors have received the same certificate with either “spouse” or “wife,” Jenkins alleged, adding that she doesn’t know why her marriage is being treated any differently.

After first meeting five years ago, Smith and Jenkins wed in Maryland in January, months after voters there approved a referendum allowing same-sex marriage. The couple is raising five children together — two are biologically Jenkins’s and three are Smith’s — and they are in the process of adopting one more. All six will receive certificates thanking them for supporting their mother. Initially, only Smith’s biological children were going to be honored, Jenkins said.

The white certificates mounted on a blue board acknowledge the recipient’s support of their parent or spouse and do not give the recipients any benefits, privileges or rights. They’re very common at retirement ceremonies across the services.

“It’s free. It has nothing to do with federal benefits,” Jenkins said.

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