This weekend in Las Vegas, hundreds of gay men and women actively serving in the military will proudly and, for the first time without fear of a forced discharge, openly participate in a conference devoted to issues of interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered military personnel.
The conference, sponsored by OutServe, one of the largest LBGT employee groups for active military personnel in the world (3,000 members with 42 chapters), would not been well-attended a year ago.
But with the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) on September 20th , allowing military personnel who are gay to serve openly, the OutServe leadership summit will be among the most visible signs of the change in the policy that tragically ended the military careers of 13,000 men and women since 1993.
That the CIA, Log Cabin Republicans and Amazon.com are among the sponsors of the conference underscores the significance of this step toward equality of LGBT persons.
While sexual orientation can no longer be used to end the career of a gay person serving in the military, it is still used to deny same sex partners and families over 40 rights and benefits available to their straight colleagues.
Indeed, no immediate changes to eligibility standards for military benefits are foreseen. This "oversight" must be corrected immediately.
Benefits for same-sex partners are certain to be a hot topic at the OutServe conference, as will gay marriage. I will speak on a panel that will explore the topic of Christianity and homosexuality where marriage and the military are often center stage. While I have not served in the military, I am the daughter of a World War II veteran, and I support our troops even as I speak out passionately for peace.
But the defense memorandum makes clear that a "chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion or personal beliefs." Do not believe for a moment the myth propagated by some on the far right that the military is forcing chaplains to perform same-sex marriages.
But now some in Congress, such as Buck McKeon (R-CA), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, would deny the religious rights of those denominations and faith traditions that affirm same-gender marriage and thus denying those chaplains their first amendment rights.
At Cathedral of Hope, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, we have been marrying people for 41 years. We have married gay men and lesbian women, couples who are interracial and interfaith, and heterosexual men and women from all backgrounds and the vows and the meaning are the same for all of them.
The difference is that when heterosexual couples say "I do," the couple leaves the service with about 1,000 civil rights that gay people do not possess.
I look forward to the day--coming soon I have no doubt--when marrying the love of one's life is considered "legal" by the State of Texas, regardless of sexual orientation.
Until that day arrives, we all may want to take to heart the words of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who gave a crucial boost to the DADT repeal movement with his support.
Jo Hudson is senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, based in Dallas, Texas.