In the late hours on Thursday evening, the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 84-15, passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), sending the measure to President Obama for his signature. Included within the sprawling annual defense authorization is a repeal of the military’s stigmatizing and discriminatory ban on private, consensual intimate conduct – defined in Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) as "unnatural carnal copulation."
Removing this prohibition from the books brings military criminal law in line with both Supreme Court and military court precedent recognizing constitutional guarantees of liberty and privacy.
While the move protects the intimate relationships of all servicemembers, it is especially significant for gay and lesbian servicemembers. The UCMJ labeled their intimate relationships, including to their same-sex spouse, as a violation of military criminal law. Given that gay men and lesbians now serve openly and with distinction throughout the Armed Forces, this offensive ban stood out like a sore thumb crying out for reform.
A special note of thanks is owed to Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) for both spearheading this reform and ensuring that it was included in the NDAA.
While there is still more work to do to advance the promise of equal treatment for all military personnel, this was a nice legislative victory (in Congress of all places) to close out what has been a remarkable year of progress for the LGBT community.