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The Kiss That Spoke Volumes (for Some)

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Thursday Dec 22, 2011

Petty Officer Second Class Marissa Gaeta and Petty Officer Third Class Citlalic Snell on Tuesday, Dec. 20, became the first women to share a "first kiss."

The two Navy officers quickly kissed in the rain on the dock after the USS Oak Hill returned to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia after an 80-day deployment to Central America. Their simple, but public act of devotion certainly spoke volumes.

The politics surrounding the end of the Pentagon's ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers that allowed Gaeta and Snell to make history remain alive and a well a year after President Barack Obama signed the 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal bill into law. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have both said that they would reinstitute 'don't ask, don't tell' if elected president. Texas Gov. Rick Perry sparked widespread outrage earlier this month when he referenced gay and lesbian servicemembers in an ad that criticized the president for eroding so-called traditional American values.

"You don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know something's wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas and pray in school," he said.

Perry's desperate attempt to salvage his languishing campaign aside, the official end on 'don't ask, don't tell' on Sept. 20 remains a seminal moment in the modern LGBT rights movement. Gaeta and Snell are among the estimated 66,000 gay and lesbian servicemembers who can now openly serve their country, but problems remain. Transgender servicemembers remain unable to serve openly. And the federal Defense of Marriage Act forbids the military from extending benefits to the spouses of gay and lesbian members of the military.

"What a difference a year makes," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, in a statement that acknowledged the first anniversary of the president signing the DADT repeal bill into law. "But when it comes to achieving full equality in America's military for every qualified patriot who serves-regardless of sexual orientation-we are not there yet."

The Pentagon and the Obama administration both did right by Gaeta and Snell and other gay and lesbian servicemembers with the end of 'don't ask, don't tell.' Let's hope they adequately address remaining inequalities against their spouses and trans members of the military in the coming year.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


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