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Updated: History of U.S. Policy and Law on Gays in the Military

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On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down provisions in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The restrictions in the act prevented federal employees in same sex marriages from receiving federal benefits. The Pentagon and the rest of the government will now sort through the ruling and the changes to federal law.

“The Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision today on the Defense of Marriage Act,” Secratary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a Wednesday statement.
“The department will immediately begin the process of implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in consultation with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies. The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible. That is now the law and it is the right thing to do.”

According to a report in Navy Times, “there are more than 100 benefits for married couples that could be provided to same-sex couples as a result of the decision, some of them with large financial benefits, such as coverage under the military health care program, paying for a spouse to accompany a service member on a permanent change of station move, and housing allowances — or on-base housing — on the same basis as other couples.”

The Pentagon has scheduled a press conference on the changes at 2:15 p.m. EST.

The move from the Supreme Court is the latest bullet point in a long history of gays in the military. The following are policy points beginning in 1778.

March 11, 1778 – Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin becomes the first documented service member to be dismissed from the U.S. military for homosexuality. Under an order from General George Washington which states “abhorrence and detestation of such infamous crimes,” Lt. Enslin is drummed out of the Continental Army after being found guilty of sodomy.

March 1, 1917 – The Articles of War of 1916 are implemented. A revision of the Articles of War of 1806, the new regulations detail statutes governing U.S. military discipline and justice. Under the category Miscellaneous Crimes and Offences, Article 93 states that any person subject to military law who commits “assault with intent to commit sodomy” shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

1919 – Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt requests an investigation into “vice and depravity” in the sea services. A sting operation is launched in which undercover operatives attempt to seduce sailors suspected of being homosexual. At least 17 sailors are jailed and court-martialed before public outcry prompts the Senate to condemn the operation.

June 4, 1920 – Congress approves modified Articles of War. Article 93 is changed to make the act of sodomy a crime in itself, separate from the offense of assault with intent to commit sodomy.

1921 –The U.S. Army issues standards in which “stigmata of degeneration” such as feminine characteristics and “sexual perversion” can result in a male being declared unfit for service.

1941 – The U. S. Selective Service System includes “homosexual proclivities” as a disqualifying condition for inclusion in the military draft.

1942 – Military psychiatrists warn that “psychopathic personality disorders” make homosexual individuals unfit to fight. The military issues the first formal regulations to list homosexuality as an excludable characteristic. Those in the military identified as homosexuals can be discharged and denied veterans benefits.

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This post was updated to include a statement from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.