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Noting Army flap, Marine Corps orders its spouses clubs to allow same-sex members

Courtesy of 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."

Marine Corps leaders have directed their legal teams to alert spouses clubs at all Marine bases to begin allowing same-sex spouses as members if those social groups want to continue operating on Marine installations, Marine officials confirmed to NBC News Wednesday evening.

In an all-hands memo to legal offices across the branch, the Marine commandant's Staff Judge Advocate warned against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and he specifically mentioned a controversial decision made last month by the officers' spouses club at the Army's Fort Bragg to deny access to the same-sex spouse of a female Army lieutenant.

NBC News reported Dec. 14 that Ashley Broadway, the newlywed wife of Lt. Col. Heather Mack, was blocked from joining the spouses club at Fort Bragg, N.C., sparking accusations from a national military spouses organization that Broadway was being blackballed only because she is a lesbian.

The Marine memo, issued Tuesday, described the Fort Bragg club’s stance as having “caused quite a stir” and added, “We do not want a story like this developing in our backyard,” confirmed Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine Corps spokesman.

“The order was pretty much using (the Fort Bragg events) as an example to clarify our policy,” Flanagan said. “We stated that the policy is to be non-discriminatory.

“We don’t control what (the spouses clubs) do. But they get support from the Marine Corps so that they can hold their meetings on base or at Department of Defense facilities. So, in order to do that, they do have to follow Marine Corp policies,” he added. “We expect that all who are interested in supporting Marine Corps family readiness would be welcome to participate and will be treated with dignity and respect.”

Broadway married Mack, her 15-year companion, 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, who is pregnant, is expected to deliver their second child this month. 

“I commend the commandant and the Marine officials for being able to take a look and really think about what is going on, and basically realizing that, hey, we’ve got same-sex Marines that are married, and we need to support their families,” Broadway told NBC News on Wednesday night.

“This is a huge step in the right direction. I applaud them.”

Broadway, who recently met with the garrison commander at Fort Bragg in her continuing bid to gain membership to the officers spouses club, remains banned from attending the group’s functions. But she said the Marine Corp’s re-emphasized policy could apply public pressure on Army officials to take the same approach.

“I would imagine so. I would probably say the Navy would follow suit and then the Air Force and the Army will take a look and say, you know what, this is the right thing,” Broadway said. “As a loyal Army wife, I would have liked to have seen it from my own branch first. But hey, I’m very excited for my Marine brothers and sisters.”