(Courtesy of Melissa Jones via NBC News) Melissa Jones, left, an Army private based at Fort Hood, Texas, and her fiancee, Danielle Nelson, will fly to San Diego this month to obtain a wedding certificate. Jones is one of numerous gay troops taking a seven-day marriage leave offered by the Pentagon.
(NBC NEWS) -- September marks nuptial season across part of the American military
as gay and lesbian troops cash in new, Pentagon-granted leaves to tie
Starting Tuesday, the Pentagon is allowing gay troops
to take travel leaves for up to seven days - or as many 10 days for
those stationed abroad - as long as those service members live 100-plus
miles away from a state that allows same-sex marriages.
service members are draining their savings just to pay for airfare,
hotels and rental cars - common, logistical necessities for obtaining a
marriage certificate in one of the 13 states where same-sex marriage is
legal, advocates say.
While many of these unions may lack champagne-soaked celebrations,
they are fueled by a practical brand of urgency: gaining immediate,
military-family benefits, said Stephen Peters, executive director of the
American Military Partner Association (AMPA).
After the Supreme Court's decision to scrap the
Defense of Marriage Act, leaders at the Department of Defense announced
that same-sex spouses of military members would become eligible this
month for an array of federal benefits previously offered only to
heterosexual spouses, from housing to health care. At the same time, DOD
authorized the special leaves for troops seeking same-sex marriages.
will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered
to married military couples throughout the Department, and help level
the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to
be married," Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, said via
email. "We do not have an estimate of how many people this will
A week to wed
At least three service
members who work with AMPA have all hatched similar marriage plans for
this month: quick trips to California to obtain licenses during their
authorized leaves with festive wedding parties to follow sometime next
year - or beyond.
"For us, California is the easiest way to go,"
said Melissa Jones, an Army E-3 (private first class), based at Fort
Hood, Texas. She and her girlfriend, Danielle Nelson, have booked a
seven-day trip to San Diego later this month. "We're going to pretty
much just get it done at the county courthouse. We're not going to have a
ceremony out there. We'll do that back here with family and friends."
To help pay for their flight and hotel room, Jones and Nelson, both
20, cashed in their large collection of loose change plus $450 in recent
"Many of our families simply can't afford the
costs of traveling across the country to get married in addition to
having a large, expensive ceremony," said Peters, executive director of
the AMPA. "Many can barely afford to travel to a city clerk's office
across the country, wait the required number of days for waiting
periods, and finally take care of the paperwork, only to hope for a
larger and more formal ceremony at a later date.
"This all boils
down to the financial burden they face in having to travel across
country - or around the world, for many - a challenge that heterosexual
(military) couples are not forced to face in order to care for their
family," Peters added.
'Just for the paper'
initial costs, the military benefits Jones will gain through marriage
will save her thousands of dollars in the long run.
license will allow Jones to qualify for "base allowance housing," under
which the military subsidizes service members' off-base apartments so
long as they are legally married or are raising a child or children.
That alone saves the couple about $700 per month, Jones said. And as a
military spouse, Nelson's college tuition will be federally covered,
instantly saving her an additional $4,000 per semester.
falls ill after she's married, she can receive her medical treatment at
Ford Hood thanks to her new military-family identification card and the
official military decal she'll receive for her car. Currently, she must
pay for medications out of pocket. The couple has been together for a
year and a half, meeting two months before Jones headed to basic
"A lot of the urgency of this is that we're missing out
on a lot of benefits," Jones said. "It's not like we're doing it for
the money, but it's going to help pay for things. I'm 20 years old and
I'm helping her pay for college. I also have a car loan and an
apartment. We both have full-time jobs. But getting the benefits, she
can stop working and can just focus on school.
"I wear (an engagement) ring. People are always asking: 'Are you
married?' I'm like: 'Yes and no.' People don't understand that. So I
tell them that I'm gay and I have go 1,500 miles away just to get
married," Jones said. "It's not like we're not going to enjoy it while
we're there. But it kind of is just for the paper."
By Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor