The Texas National Guard is refusing to process requests from same-sex couples for benefits on Tuesday, citing the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, despite a Pentagon directive to do so.
“It is now the department’s policy to treat all married military personnel equally,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in memo last month to senior Pentagon officials. The new policy that went into effect today, makes all same-sex spouses of military members eligible for the same health care, housing and other benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses.
According to the Huffington Post:
Maj. Gen. John Nichols, the commanding general of Texas Military Forces, wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that because the Texas Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, his state agency couldn’t process applications from gay and lesbian couples. But he said the Texas National Guard, Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guard would not deny anyone benefits.
“However, the (Texas Military Forces) remains committed to ensuring its military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled. As such, we encourage anyone affected by this issue to enroll for benefits at a federal installation,” he advised service members. He then listed 22 bases operated by the Department of Defense in Texas where service members could enroll their families.
National guard officials in several states that ban gay marriage said Tuesday that they will follow federal law, including Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, Kentucky, Georgia, Idaho, Tennessee, South Carolina, Nevada and Montana
Pentagon officials were aware of the situation. Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen issued a statement saying said federal officials will process all applications from same-sex couples with a marriage certificate from a state where it is legal.
Alicia Butler said she was turned away from the Texas Military Forces headquarters in Austin early Tuesday and advised to get her ID card at Fort Hood, 90 miles away. She married her spouse – an Iraq war veteran – in California in 2009, and they have a 5-month-old child.
“It’s so petty. It’s not like it’s going to stop us from registering or stop us from marrying. It’s a pointed way of saying, `We don’t like you,” Butler said.
She said she was concerned the state would withhold survivor benefits if something happened to her wife while she was activated on state duty rather than on federal deployment.
“People say, `Why don’t you live somewhere else?'” she said. “Well, my ancestors came here five generations ago to get away from this kind of stuff, and this is my state and I’m not going to go away.”
American Military Partner Association, which advocates for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people in the armed forces, gave the AP a copy of Nichols’ letter.
“It’s truly outrageous that the State of Texas has decided to play politics with our military families,” said Stephen Peters, the organization’s president. “Our military families are already dealing with enough problems and the last thing they need is more discrimination from the state of Texas.”
Gov. Rick Perry’s office issued a single-sentence statement when asked about the dispute, saying: “As a state agency, Texas Military Forces must adhere with Texas law and the Texas Constitution, which clearly define marriage as between one man and one woman.”