Holdout states comply with same-sex benefits policy from Pentagon
President Barack Obama looks down as he stands next to the sign language interpreter as he makes his speech at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. South Africa's deaf federation said on Wednesday that the interpreter on stage for Mandela memorial was a 'fake', (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Thamsanqa Jantjie gesticulates at his home during an interview with the Associated Press in Johannesburg, South Africa,Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. Jantjie, the man accused of faking sign interpretation next to world leaders at Nelson Mandela's memorial, told a local newspaper that he was hallucinating and hearing voices. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
All states are now processing benefits for same-sex National Guard spouses after several holdouts found ways to implement the policy without violating their constitutional bans on gay-marriage recognition.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an announcement yesterday that same-sex spouses in every state can now obtain the military ID cards they need to receive benefits for wives and husbands of service members.
“All of DOD is committed to pursuing equal opportunities for all who serve this nation, and I will continue to work to ensure our men and women in uniform as well as their families have full and equal access to the benefits they deserve,” Hagel said.
A handful of states, including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia, refused to process ID applications for gay spouses after the Pentagon issued a directive requiring the military to treat all legally married couples equally for purposes of federal benefits. The states told same-sex couples they could only apply at federal installations, even though opposite-sex spouses could submit their paperwork at state facilities.
Hagel directed the chief of the National Guard Bureau in late October to work with state officials to reach compliance with the Defense Department’s new policy, which came in response to a landmark Supreme Court decision in June overturning a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act.
Slowly, the holdout states and the National Guard Bureau found workarounds to ensure equal treatment of service members without allowing their employees to process same-sex benefits.
South Carolina required all National Guard spouses to apply at federal installations regardless of their sexual orientation, eliminating the possibility of unequal treatment at state facilities. In Texas and other states, the bureau agreed to switch some service members to federal status so they could process the benefits without violating state law.
Some states with gay-marriage prohibitions complied with the Defense Department policy right away, saying they could process ID applications for gay spouses without violating their constitutions. They included Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia.
The American Military Partners Association, a gay-rights advocate, commended the Pentagon yesterday for following through with its policy. But the group’s president, Stephen Peters, said in a statement that same-sex couples still face other forms of “discrimination and exclusion by state governments.”