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The Marrying Kind

West Point forbids cadets to wed, but two are getting away with matrimony

By Mark Thompson/Washington

TIME magazine

Standing tall in full-dress gray among his 900 fellow West Point graduates this Saturday will be a freshly minted U.S. Army officer, proudly ready to wear the "butter bars" of a 2nd lieutenant. But he is unique among his classmates in at least one respect: he is graduating only because he and another West Point cadet have figured out how to get away with marriage. Against U.S. Military Academy regulation they married; then they had a child, unmarried in order to graduate from the academy and, with commencement in sight, are apparently prepared to remarry and regain custody of the baby.

Love at the academies is nothing new, nor is marriage--once graduation is over. Thus, the service's decision to let the couple graduate with full honors is sparking waves of controversy in the barracks of the academy, at military bases and along Pentagon corridors, where some fear the academy's once strict regulations are becoming a loose, case-by-case catalog.

The couple, both members of the class of '98, secretly married last year when they discovered she was pregnant. Today at West Point, having a baby can't get you thrown out, but wedlock can. The Army launched a probe into the couple's marital status earlier this year after the father acknowledged the union while filling out a pregraduation form detailing his housing needs. Army investigators confirmed that the pair were married clandestinely, and recommended to Lieut. General Daniel Christman, West Point's superintendent, that they be expelled. After all, that's been West Point's punishment for the very rare cases of cadet matrimony for the past 163 years. "Any cadet who is married prior to graduation," the academy's handbook says, "shall be separated from the military academy." But before the separation process was over--Army paperwork isn't the world's swiftest--the couple had their marriage annulled by a civilian court.

That left Christman in a bind. "The annulment meant there was no marriage," he says. Army lawyers told him to abandon his efforts to expel the couple. "Since, following the annulment, no marriage ever existed legally," he says, "we felt strongly we couldn't sustain the separation." Army officials say the two were punished, short of expulsion, although they decline to offer details or identify the couple. Through an Army spokesman, the pair declined to be interviewed.

And what of the baby? The annulment has made their child, in theory, illegitimate. Because West Point cadets are allowed to become parents, but not to keep custody of their offspring, the couple turned the baby over to relatives. Army officers say it's likely the couple will re-wed in December, when the woman--whose graduation was delayed by her pregnancy--is due to graduate. At that time, the couple will probably gain custody of the child and complete their five years of obligated military service. The father, a highly regarded cadet, is expected to head to graduate school. "It is a difficult moral and ethical proposition to square," sighs Christman. "But life is filled with a lot of complicated moral and ethical issues."

--By Mark Thompson/Washington
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Cover Date: June 1, 1998

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