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Same-sex wife of Army officer banned from joining Fort Bragg spouses club

Credit Ashley Broadway

Ashley Broadway, left, married her 15-year companion, Lt. Col. Heather Mack, in November — their first chance to hold a formal ceremony after the 2011 repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell."

The newlywed wife of a female lieutenant colonel stationed at Fort Bragg, the largest Army installation in the country, has been denied membership in a base club for officers’ spouses, igniting accusations from a national military spouses organization that the woman was blackballed only because she is a lesbian.

Ashley Broadway married her 15-year companion, Lt. Col. Heather Mack, in November — their first chance to hold a formal ceremony after the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the policy that kept gays from openly serving in the military. The couple has a 2-year-old son and Mack is 8-months-pregnant with their second child.

“I was really hurt by the denial. Living for years under ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ I couldn’t be a part of the military family,” Broadway said, breaking into tears. “After ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ I thought, wow, I can finally be part of something, finally give back to the military community in ways other than just writing a check. So it was a blow. A real blow. Here, I thought things were progressing. I was knocked back down.”

During a phone call Broadway received last week from a representative from the Association of Bragg Officers' Spouses, Broadway said she was told her application was rejected by the group’s president, Mary Ring, because Broadway does not have a military spouse identification card.

But that rule was added only after Broadway asked to join several weeks ago, according to Babette Maxwell, founder and executive director of both Military Spouse Magazine and the annual Military Spouse of the Year Awards. Maxwell and others advocating for Broadway said they have been monitoring and chronologically noting changes in the website for the Bragg spouses club. 

Several weeks ago, Broadway repeatedly asked the club for a copy of its bylaws so she could read its membership rules. The club did not send them to her, she said, so Broadway obtained the bylaws from Fort Bragg's Morale, Welfare and Recreation office, where they were on file — and those pages later were shared with NBC News. Under the membership requirements, the bylaws state that the club accepts "spouses of all commissioned and warrant officers" who are on active duty and who reside "in the Fort Bragg area" or live on base. In those bylaws, which also say the group "will not seek to deprive individuals of their civil rights," there is no mention of a requirement that members must posses a military spouse identification card. 

On Thursday, the spouse club noted on its website that: "Our constitution and Bylaws are currently being reviewed. Thank you for your patience during this process. We will have them posted as soon as possible."

In recent days, Maxwell said, the club deleted from its website its phone number — a number that is now disconnected — as well as the last names of its board members. On Thursday, those first names were still publicly listed on the site.

On Friday morning, every link beyond the website's welcome page was password protected. 

The U.S. military does not recognize same-sex marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act and does not offer benefits — or ID cards — to same-sex spouses.

The club, in a statement emailed to NBC news, said: “In response to recent interest in the membership requirements of our organization, we will review the issue at our next board meeting.” The letter cites a “busy holiday season” and notes the club’s board has been “extremely busy” with a pair of recent fundraisers.

“Too busy with the holidays? Really? Since when has equality taken a back seat to Christmas?” asked Maxwell, whose mother once served as president of the Fort Bragg officers wives’ club when Maxwell’s father was stationed at the North Carolina base.

“My mother would say: It didn’t matter if a spouse was black, or was a he, and it most certainly wouldn’t matter if she loved a woman,” Maxwell said. “Back in the day, I never once recall having to present my military ID at any spouse club event, ever. We regularly had the girlfriends and fiancés of officers participate in the club. They didn’t have military IDs. So I find their explanation that Ashley’s membership requires a military ID a bit weak.”

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The Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses is a nonprofit, according to its website, meaning it is not directly associated with the Department of Defense.

“That does give them a little bit more legal latitude with their abilities to discriminate, which would be sad,” Maxwell said. “But their decision is certainly not in keeping with the military’s directive and they do have Fort Bragg in their name.”

While investigating the matter on Broadway's behalf, Maxwell also has been placing calls to the Fort Bragg public affairs office and to the Fort Bragg garrison commander’s office.

“When I called the garrison office (Wednesday), asking when we could expect some type of response from that office about Ashley Broadway, I got hung up on,” Maxwell said. “Meanwhile, (the club) has made course correction after course correction on its website to cover their butts.

“They are part of and affiliated, by definition, with Fort Bragg. They need to understand the Army and the military’s directive on this by the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ They need to step in line with that. If it comes down to the president (Mary Ring) of the spouses club imposing her personal beliefs on an organization, I would ask her to step aside and she may found her own nonprofit. But the Fort Bragg Officers’ Spouses club belongs to Fort Bragg."

A voicemail message left by NBC News with the Fort Bragg public affairs office was not returned. But on Friday, the American Military Partner Association (AMPA) — a support network for spouses or partners of LGBT service members - released a statement, revealing that Fort Bragg's commander will meet with Broadway on Dec. 20 to discuss her application. 

According to both the AMPA and OutServe-SLDN, the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel, Fort Bragg Col. Jeffrey Sanborn, the Garrison commander, will meet with Broadway "to address the discrimination she is facing with the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses."

"By agreeing to this meeting, the post leadership is affirming that, indeed, it does have a role to play when a family in its community is treated unfairly by a group that holds itself out as representative of all military families," the AMPA's statement read. "Ashley looks forward to discussing not only the challenges her family has faced, but those faced by other same-sex military families in the Fort Bragg community.”

AMPA earlier had said it was “disappointed to see such exclusion.” (AMPA also has been monitoring the Bragg spouses club website and shared the recently removed bylaws with NBC News). 

“The Fort Bragg Officers’ Spouse Club would not need to review the membership requirements if they had not changed the membership qualifications after Ms. Broadway requested to join their association,” the AMPA added in a statement Thursday emailed to NBC News. “The bylaws on which the FBOSC board has voted and approved are sufficient to allow all spouses of any military officer to become a member, ID or not."

Said Maxwell: “We expect them to do the right thing. We are looking for them to be the model for other organizations that are going to face this issue in the near future. This is going to come up again. This is an opportunity for Fort Bragg — their spouses club — to step out and be the leader we know they can be. They need to be the template by which others follow.”

At their home near Fort Bragg, Broadway and Mack are preparing for the arrival of their second child. But next year, Mack expects to head to Afghanistan to serve with her unit, Broadway said.

“My wife puts on the uniform like every other soldier,” Broadway said. “She knows she’s probably going to have to deploy as soon as she comes off her six-month maternity (leave). She’s prepared to give her life for the country that she loves. She’s prepared to save one of her soldiers in a time of attack. (Due to benefit inequalities for same-sex spouses in the military), she shouldn’t have to worry if her family is going to be taken care if, God forbid, something happens to her."

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