Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Equal marriage rights? Special rights? How about NO rights?

A few days ago over at Bilerico, Alex Blaze reported on three Marines who received bad-conduct discharges for committing fraud against the United States.

Here are the facts according to the LA Times, which first reported this development: Corporal Ashley Vice, Cpl. Jeremiah Griffin and Cpl. Joseph Garner served at Camp Pendleton, California in the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Corporal Vice is a lesbian; her partner, Jaime Murphy, is a civilian.

Unmarried couples, whether gay or straight, are not allowed to live together on base. Married couples can live on or off the base. If they elect to live off the base, they are eligible for a $1,200 housing allowance.

Naturally, Vice and Murphy wanted to live together, and they needed the married-housing allowance to make it happen. But the federal Defense of Marriage Act limits marriage -- and its accompanying benefits -- to heterosexual couples only. Therefore, even after the demise of don't ask/don't tell, Vice and Murphy could not claim the housing allowance.

Knowing this, Vice and Murphy found two male Marines -- Corporals Griffin and Garner -- who were willing to marry them. The women would then both be in opposite-sex marriages and could receive the married-housing allowance.

The military determined that the three Marines had committed fraud by representing themselves as married to get the housing benefit, and all three were discharged for bad conduct. In addition, the men were fined $5,000 apiece and got three to six months in the slammer. Murphy, a civilian, was not subject to military authority and was not sanctioned.

Now, here's a bit of a twist: The Associated Press version of the story, which is being used by just about everybody, contains a critical ambiguity: 
Three San Diego Marine corporals have been discharged for bad conduct after admitting they faked their marriages to receive housing allowances. . . . Vice has previously said in media coverage that she and her partner were forced to enter sham marriages because they couldn't afford to live off base without the extra money. (emphasis provided)
So which is it? Did the Marines actually get married, or did they just say they did?  Did they forge documents and lie under oath in order to get the allowance? Or did they enter into legal marriages for reasons of convenience? The distinction matters. People who lie about whether they're married should get penalized, even if the law they are trying to circumvent is unjust.

(By the way, I also have a problem with AP's headline, duplicated over and over again by news outlets::  "Three California Marines discharged after faking marriages." Assuming that the Marines did legally marry, they didn't fake anything.  Indeed, the marriages are probably still valid, even if they were a sham.* Saying the marriages were "faked" strikes me as unfairly biased. And unfortunately, even HuffPo repeated the language.)

Assuming the couples actually married -- and that seems to be true here -- the case has intriguing implications for gay-marriage jurisprudence if a similar fact pattern lands in an appellate court.

Think, for a minute, about the oft-heard, right-wing sound bite: "Gays can already marry. They just have to marry a person of the opposite sex. Gays shouldn't ask for special rights."  (I know, I know, I don't buy it either.)

But do we have the right to marry someone of the opposite sex? For those of us in the military, maybe not. An "out" lesbian or gay man who weds someone of the opposite sex would be in a sham marriage, almost by definition. Such a marriage subjects the participants to bad-conduct discharge, fines, and even jail.

So if you're gay and you're in the military, here is your full panoply of marriage options:
(a) Don't get married, or
(b) Marry someone of the opposite sex and land in the pokey.

Some choice, huh?

*Wikipedia says so. Wikipedia is not worthy of citation if you're writing a brief. But it's okie dokey on this blog.


  1. Anonymous9:33 PM

    I give the couple snaps for creative problem solving. I'm just saddened that it didn't work out for them. For any of them.

  2. It would be nice to have the facts behind this to know if the marriages were fake or just sham. There is a huge difference. People will do what they have to do to survive. During the 7 Day War I knew several Israeli's who had sham marriages to Americans to get citizenship. I'm sure there is a lot of this going on for various political reasons.

  3. Exactly, Otterspotter. Good to see you here!

  4. ...and some of those conservatives ARE married to gay people of the opposite sex, some of them Congressmen.