This week, Ashley Broadway is paying close attention to the Supreme Court as it hears two cases on the politically charged issue of same-sex marriage. For her, it’s about family: her spouse, Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack, their son, two weeks’ shy of 3 years, and two-month-old daughter.
Broadway has won a few personal battles before. The director of family affairs for the American Military Partner Association – a nonprofit, all-volunteer resource and support network for LGBT military families — made news in January. After being rejected because she didn’t have a military ID, she was invited to become a full member of the officers’ spouses club at Fort Bragg, N.C., and was named Fort Bragg’s 2013 “Military Spouse of the Year” by Military Spouse magazine.
She’s lived a military life during “don’t ask, don’t tell” and after its repeal just when Mack was deployed to Kuwait. (“Nothing really changed, except I personally for her did not fear she would lose her job and her career,” Broadway said.”) They have been stationed in Georgia, Virginia, Texas and South Korea. But though she and Mack have been together since 1997, and were married last fall in Washington, D.C., she said the family still lives with uncertainty.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government doesn’t recognize their union. And “if DOMA is repealed,” she said Tuesday, “we’re still going to be basically second-class citizens in the state of North Carolina.” The state amended its constitution last year to define marriage between one man and one woman as the only valid domestic legal union.
Because they wanted to make sure their children were protected as military dependents, able to receive benefits and insurance, Mack is the biological parent.
“I am not able to adopt our children in North Carolina,” where there is a second parent adoption ban, Broadway said, though she logged worried time next to their son in the neonatal unit. They live in Sanford, N.C., where the former teacher is a stay-at-home parent. After paying thousands and thousands of dollars, she said, “legally, we think we’re protected,” but she said they can’t be sure.
“Uncle Sam sends us to a place where we basically have no protections,” she said. “Heather this July will be in the Army 18 years. She puts on the uniform just like her peers. She is willing to give her life. Regardless of how someone feels about same-sex marriage or their religious convictions, we can’t have second-class citizens, especially people defending our country and our constitution,” she said.
She said that while she can afford to pay almost $600 a month for health insurance, she knows many in the military stressed by the financial burden of lost insurance, moving costs and other expenses.
Justices’ questions have shown they are wrestling with the issue of same-sex marriage, what to do and at how fast a pace. Signs of a societal shift are there– from the crowds on both sides who gathered at the court days to the public support by high-profile officials such as Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who changed his view when his son told him he was gay, to the rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage by Americans, as seen by various polls.
The military, through repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell repeal” and opening combat roles to women, is making efforts to diversify its ranks.
Broadway said she is hopeful “in my heart of hearts” the Supreme Court will throw out DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. “I never thought in a million years that they would find ‘Obamacare’ constitutional.”
“My uncle is gay, and he was with his partner almost 40 years before his partner died,” Broadway said. “They never were able to get married, were never able to travel anywhere to get a civil union. … I really hope for his sake that he can live long enough to see we have come a long way.”
These past few days, “what I was shocked to see were so many of my heterosexual friends who had changed their Facebook picture to the Human Rights Campaign emblem or one of the other gay organizations.
“I think that people are really taking a step back and looking at — I know Ashley and Heather, they’re a phenomenal couple, they have two beautiful kids,” Broadway said. “They’re good Americans. Why can’t they have the same rights as myself and my husband?”
“I’m lucky because our kids are young; I’m hoping I’ll never have to explain to them why their mommies can’t be married,” Broadway said.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3