Atlanta veteran and attorney Jeff Cleghorn never meant to be a revolutionary. But he became one of the leading soldiers in the war against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (pun intended) and recently married his partner, David, in California. Just last week, the two pointedly filed joint income tax returns as a married couple, even though state law requires them to file as single and does not recognize their marriage. (A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court seeks to overturn the ban; they are not involved in the case.)
I’ve known Jeff casually for years. I was moved recently when he posted on Facebook this photo of David with his newly issued military ID card, recognizing him as the spouse of a veteran. It was one more highly emotional, personal story that illustrates how much things are changing for gay rights in this country, and how quickly.
What was it like getting David’s ID? I was so worried about making sure we had all the required paperwork and finding the time to drive up to the local Air Force base that I didn’t think much about what we were hoping to accomplish. But as we were signing documents and having photos taken, it hit me like a load of bricks. I was overcome by emotion. Here I was, only a very few years after the victory allowing military gays to serve openly, and my husband was receiving an official, U.S. government / military spousal identification card.
The Air Force sergeant who processed our paperwork did so as though we were just another of the many couples waiting in line, as we were. It was surreal. And joyous. I hugged my sweet husband and cried.
From ROTC to the White House: I always wanted to be a soldier. I participated in Junior ROTC in high school, went to a military college, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army’s Military Intelligence Corps in 1984.
Shortly after being promoted to Major, I left the Army in 1996 because I was tired of subjugating my identity as a condition of serving my country. The Army had transferred me to the Pentagon a few years prior, and living in D.C. helped to accelerate my late “coming out” process.
I went to law school in D.C. I volunteered with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), providing free legal services to gay and lesbian military personnel who were being investigated, harassed or discharged because of their sexuality. I worked as an SLDN staff attorney, wrote op-ed pieces, made media appearances, and eventually served two terms on the SLDN board.
I attended the White House presidential signing ceremony of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, and have a signed copy of that act framed and displayed behind my office desk.
Why bother getting married when you live in a state that doesn’t recognize it? David and I married because we love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together. David is from Mexico, so marriage allows us to petition for a spousal green card, and that process is well under way. And since I’m retired military, it also allows David to receive various benefits, such as health insurance.
As a family law attorney, I work with a lot of LGBT clients and their families. Fortunately, married same-sex couples do benefit from several important federal marriage rights, including the ability to file married joint income tax returns. Georgia requires us to file our state returns as single. But I’m not about to go back into a government imposed closet vis-à-vis my relationship with David. Georgia may want to pretend that married gay couples are single, but we have a different view.
RELATED: In Mississippi, ‘We Don’t Discriminate’
RELATED: Gay dads, smart kid