Photographer shares 7 moving portraits of military families harmed by DOMA

For the past three months, Tatjana Plitt, an artist from Australia, has been working on a photography project to document the challenges that gay and lesbian service members and their partners face in the United States(Freedom to Marry previously spotlighted her work in September, here). The project - and the couples featured within the project - demonstrate the ways that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act harms same-sex military couples and their families. Because DOMA prohibits the U.S. military - and all federal institutions - from respecting lawful marriages between same-sex couples, these couples are not eligible for the same protections and responsibilities that different-sex married couples receive, including shared health insurance, access to military base housing, and survivor benefits. 

Tatjana's project - a series of portraits of couples in their homes - shines a light on the fact that even though gay and lesbian service members can now be open about their sexuality thanks to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," they are still discriminated by the U.S. government.

Tatjana says her portraits are somewhat of an homage to historic portraits of 17th Century marriages and families. "The function of a marriage portrait was to legitimize a couple's marriage, as the formal and legal structures we have today did not yet exist," Tatjana explained. "These paintings also served to celebrate the nobility, respectability, and wealth of this new family union. In the same way, I wish to celebrate the respectability and validity of these same-sex couples and provide a contemporary take on the notion of traditional marriage and family."

Each couple is photographed in their home - with many photographed in their bedroom. Tatjana explained that this was very intentional: "Sexuality is respected as private in the lives of other citizens, but it's been politicized and made a cause for discrimination for same-sex couples," she said. "By welcoming viewers into the very space that has been deemed taboo and 'alternative,' these couples invite viewers to connect with them and their families and see that there are fewer differences in their love, affection, hopes, and dreams than people might imagine."

Tatjana has received an amazing response to her project - military couples across the country want to share their stories and their experiences with Tatjana and with the broader community in the United States and beyond. And Tatjana wants to make sure that every couple's story can be told. That's why she's embarking on a journey across the country to reach every couple who volunteers to lend their story to the fight against DOMA. Ultimately, Tatjana's aim is to produce an exhibition and coffee table book full of these portraits. To fund her work, she's launched a Kickstarter campaign to support the costs from her trip and help make her dream of an exhibition a reality. Check out her campaign HERE. Tatjana is also continuing to look for couples to share their story - and you can contact her via the Kickstarter campaign.

As a preview of her art project, Tatjana has shared seven of her beautiful portraits with Freedom to Marry. Check them out and learn more about how DOMA is hurting same-sex military couples.

Phillip and Stephen

Phillip & Stephen have been together for 18 years and were married one year ago. Phillip was discharged from the Navy in 1986 for being gay, ending his career as a highly qualified Arabic & Farsi interpreter. Now, 25 years later he is happy to be back in uniform serving the Coast Guard Auxiliary. As a highly sought after interpreter, Phillip is likely to be deployed to the Persian Gulf in the next year. The couple is concerned that due to DOMA, they will be deprived of several important protections that different-sex married couples are entitled to. If anything were to happen to Phillip, Stephen would not necessarily be entitled to a number of surviving spouse benefits. Read more about the protections that are and are not available to same-sex military partners at OutServe-SLDN

Ashley and Liliana

Ashley and Liliana have been together for three years and have been married for one year. Ashley has been in the military for seven and a half years, and Liliana has been serving for 11 years. They recently welcomed into the world a baby boy, Brice - and although Ashley is on her son's birth certificate, DOMA would make it difficult for her to receive the 'paternity' leave that any other military spouse would likely receive in the event of the birth of a child - if she were to request leave, she would not necessarily be granted it: Even after DADT repeal, there is no guidance for commanders on granting leave to service members in the event of the birth of a child from a same-sex partner. To reconcile this, Ashley has saved up her personal leave to be able to spend the first weeks of her son's life at home with him and her wife. 

Stephen and Josh

Stephen and Josh Snyder-Hill have been together for three years, and they married in May 2011, when Stephen was on two weeks leave from serving in Iraq, before DADT was officially repealed. Stephen has been serving in the military since 1988 and came out as a gay soldier in 2011 on national television when asking Republican candidates whether they would overturn the repeal of DADT. Audience members at the debate booed him for asking his question. Stephen has been fighting for freedom and equality on behalf of his country for over two decades - as citizens of this country, he and his husband do not get to enjoy the very freedoms and equality he has dedicated his life fighting for. That is why he and Josh have taken part in this project and are also part of a law suit with SLDN to repeal DOMA.

Karen and Alli

Karen and Alli have been a couple for two years, and they married eight months ago. Karen has been in the military for nearly 10 years, and Alli has served for three years. DOMA has put an unwanted financial strain on their family - since same-sex spouses may not be recognized as dependents of service members, military family housing is generally unavailable to same-sex couples. Additionally, same-sex spouses under DOMA are not eligible to receive family separation allowance if the spouse is unable to accompany the service member. While dealing with these issues, the couplestill has to fulfill their financial obligations, pay the bills, and put food on the table. Sometimes, they don't know how they are going to do that, and they often struggle to make ends meet.

Sarah and Stephanie 

Sarah and Stephanie have been together for a year and seven months. The couple is engaged and waiting for federal respect of their ability to marry. The couple says that the decision to spend the rest of their lives together will exist regardless of the status of DOMA - however, repeal would make healthcare and payment for joint housing a reality. In the meantime, the military is PCSing Stephanie in May, when Sarah will then have to give up her mechanical engineering position as a Federal Civil Service Employee since she cannot partake in the Military Spouse Priority Placement Program. The intent of the program is to lessen the employment and career interruptions of spouses who relocate with their military sponsors and give the spouse hiring preference as long as they meet minimum qualifications, but DOMA prohibits same-sex military partners from participating in the program.

Zachary and Marshall

Zachary and Marshall Evans-Nethers have been together for seven years, and they married on April 28, 2012 in Washington, D.C. The couple has two daughters: 11-year-old Taylor and 7-year-old Emma. Zachary and Marshall live in Ohio, where same-sex couples do not have the freedom to marry, and DOMA prohibits federal respect of their legal marriage. DOMA also denies the couple spousal protections, provokes a lack of respect for their marriage throughout the rest of the country, and forces their family to work around the law by naming each other friends instead of husbands.

Idalia and Angelie

On December 19, Idalia and Angelie will officially celebrate their one-year anniversary. They met on an online forum for out gay and lesbian service members on the day that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was finally repealed. The couple plans to marry when Angelie returns from deployment, and when they say "I do," they understand that little will change in terms of their federal recognition as a couple: DOMA will officially begin to affect them. Idalia serves in the Army National Guard, making it is a bit easier for the couple to be together than it would be if they were both active duty, but all the while, they can't help thinking about the future: What will they do, for instance, when Angelie is relocated and stationed at a new base? What will they do when they choose to start a family? And when will the government respect their commitment to each other in the same way it respects commitment between different-sex couples?

Since May, Freedom to Marry and OutServe-SLDN have been exposing this injustice through our Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry campaign. You can read more about Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry and meet other military families hurt by DOMA HERE. And don't forget to learn more about Tatjana's project.