September 19, 2013
By Elizabeth Jones
Since the Department of Defense changed its spousal policy in mid-August to grant same-sex couples and military families full and equal benefits, many couples are having a difficult time navigating the various new plans. Fortunately, the American Military Partner Association, a non-partisan advocacy group for gay military couples and their families, created an initiative that alleviates some of the burden by connecting military families nationwide.
An above-ground network
In order to receive military spousal benefits, a couple must provide a valid marriage license. For couples based in a state where same-sex marriage is illegal, the DoD has allowed them seven days of leave to travel to a state where a same-sex marriage license can be obtained. However, travel expenses are not provided by the military and the costs could easily rack up a large bill, especially for those service members based in remote regions. That's why the Rainbow Railroad Initiative is there to help.
Launched Aug. 22, the AMPA initiative seeks to eliminate the high costs of traveling across state lines to gain access to military benefits by partnering same-sex couples with families across the nation. According to the organization's website, AMPA members and other LGBT supporters have offered to house military couples along their path to marriage equality.
The website for the initiative features an interactive map of the available houses, complete with the owner's name and a brief description of the residence. For example, David in El Paso, Texas writes: "Guest bedroom and bath. Two dogs."
Others mention their children, whether or not smoking is allowed and even their ability to perform a marriage ceremony as an ordained minister. All participants link to their Facebook pages.
A rainbow battleground
When the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, ultimately upending the federal ban on recognizing same-sex marriage, the DoD swiftly changed its position on marriage equality. Just one month after the landmark Supreme Court decision,
However, the rest of America hasn't caught up with the DoD. Currently, just 13 states allow same-sex marriage, while 20 states have laws or constitutional bans against it. Most states that allow same-sex marriage are concentrated in the northeast and western regions of the country, meaning same-sex service members in the South and Texas have to do the greatest amount of traveling.
To help alleviate that burden, AMPA has made sure that the Rainbow Railroad is accessible in every region of the country, from as far south as San Antonio to Minot, N.D.
Doing your part
The Rainbow Railroad Initiative is supported entirely by volunteers. Those who are interested in opening their doors to service members and their spouses can send a message to AMPA through its official Facebook page.