Same-sex partners and families faced unique challenges

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Ariana Bostian-Kentes, president of the Military Partners and Families Coalition, speaks at the organization's recent repeal celebration, held at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

After years of hiding, not only are gay and lesbian soldiers stepping into the light but their families and partners are as well.

Last week, the Military Partners and Families Coalition held its first event at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. I happened to interview co-founder Tracey Hepner a few days earlier at a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal party on Sept. 20 in Washington, D.C.

Hepner, who is in a relationship with a senior leader deployed in Afghanistan, talked about the unique difficulties of same-sex partners under DADT. Without the support system afforded to the spouses and family members of straight troops, they are uniquely isolated.

“We’ve had cases where the civilian couldn’t come out at work, because it might jeopardize their soldier,” she told Stripes. “We’ve heard from children who have a parent deployed overseas but can’t tell anyone about it because it might cost a mother’s job.”

The military still does not recognize gay marriages or provide benefits to same-sex partners. Gay troops cannot automatically bring their spouses on accompanied tours, and same-sex spouses have only limited access to military bases and programs.

Group officials told Stripes they’ll continue to lobby defense officials for greater recognition and benefits for same-sex couples in the future.

It remains to be seen how soldiers’ same-sex partners will be received around the Army, but they are being accepted at the highest levels. The commander-in-chief’s wife Michelle Obama has welcomed them into the Joining Forces campaign to support military families.

Videos of the Military Partners and Families Coalition event, after the jump.

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