NBCNEWS.COM - An Army wife, denied full membership at a Fort Bragg spouses club because she's married to a female Army officer, was named Fort Bragg's 2013 "spouse of the year" Friday after an annual, national vote that spanned nominees from all military branches, NBC News has learned.
In the online election held Tuesday, Ashley Broadway captured the Fort Bragg vote "by a country mile," said Babette Maxwell, founder of Military Spouse magazine and the Military Spouse of the Year award. Ballot totals were not revealed. As one of the 154 base-level winners, Broadway now is eligible to be nominated for Army "spouse of the year."
"A lot of people who voted never me met or talked to me or knew me from Adam. I know it was a statement to the Obama Administration, to Secretary (of Defense Leon) Panetta, to Senator (Chuck) Hagel — if he is confirmed (as defense secretary) — to the Pentagon and, really, to America that, yes, she is a military spouse and she needs to be recognized," Broadway told NBC News.
"There are things the government can do right now to make life a hell of a lot easier than what it is currently for those who are in same-sex marriages in the military," she added. "It was a lot of people saying, ‘Enough's enough.' "
Broadway's rejection from the Fort Bragg officers' spouses club sparked the U.S. Marine Corps to issue on Jan. 9 a pro-gay, branch-wide directive. On Jan. 16, her bid drew the Pentagon's attention. The next day, the on-base spouses club offered Broadway a "special guest membership" – an invitation she declined, calling it "extremely demeaning."
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 gave birth to their second child, a daughter, on Tuesday.
"People got one vote per email address — one ballot for the person you wanted to represent you. I think people would be unwilling to, quote-unquote, throw their vote away on simply doing what was popular," Maxwell said. "There was a significant amount of meaning in what they were doing when they voted for Ashley.
"Removing her a bit from the press and recognition she's received the last few months, Ashley — more importantly — has a platform to benefit a large number of spouses, and that's what people want to see happen," Maxwell added. "The winners are chosen based on their merits, their accomplishments and what they intend to do for the community in the year to come."
Broadway has volunteered to tutor soldiers' children in reading, briefed inbound Army families on local school districts, and helped transferring soldiers with housing-location decisions.
"When I was denied membership, I asked to speak to the club's board. I was convinced that if they'd just sit down with me for half an hour, if I could talk to them about what I've been doing, what I'll be doing in the future, they would see what an asset I would be to the group," Broadway said.
The meeting was not granted.
"That was the most frustrating thing," she said.
The club's board maintains Broadway was never rejected because "a formal application was never filed," and that she simply had inquired about the eligibility of a same-sex spouse and was told the club would need "time to look at the issue."
Online voting for the next round of the 2013 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year — the branch level — will take place Feb. 5. The overall winner, elected from the branch finalists, will be revealed May 9.
"I never thought in a million years I would be the one to
advance the cause. If that's what it's going to take to get attention
for all the military same-sex spouses, then so be it," Broadway said.
"But I do take this (Bragg 'spouse of the year' award) very seriously.
And we'll see where it goes from here."