The Texas National Guard is being pressured to revisit its policy blocking gay troops from enrolling at state-run facilities to receive spousal benefits as one LGBT legal group is seeking a response within 10 days.
In a letter dated Sept. 13, Paul Castillo, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, writes that Texas Military Forces — which comprises the state national guard — should change its current policy because it “fails its troops and their families.”
“The discriminatory treatment of lesbian and gay spouses of service members, including those in the Army National Guard in Texas, is illegal,” Costillo writes. “It also is detrimental to good order, discipline and morale and fails to accord all soldiers dignity and respect — guiding principles of the military.”
The letter — addressed to Texas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. John Nichols — requests a response from Texas Military Forces within 10 days. The Texas National Guard didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the letter this week.
The Pentagon, beginning Sept. 3, allowed gay troops in legal same-sex marriages to receive federal spousal benefits allocated to married straight service members — such as health and pension benefits — in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
But Texas Military Forces has said it cannot enroll the spouses of gay troops into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, because state law in Texas prohibits same-sex marriage. Instead, Texas Military Forces is telling gay married troops in the state to seek out installations run by the federal government to apply for benefits.
Texas is the one of three states that reportedly isn’t enrolling the same-sex spouses of gay troops into DEERS. Others are Louisiana and Mississippi. The national guards in other states — even the ones where same-sex marriage isn’t legal — have been enrolling gay couples.
As reported by the Blade, Alicia Butler, an Austin, Texas, attorney, and her spouse, Judith Chedville, an Army nurse and Iraq war veteran, were denied spousal benefits at Camp Mabry in Texas when they sought to apply for them. The letter indicates that Lambda is representing the couple.
Although Texas Military Forces has cited state law as the represent why it must withhold spousal benefits to gay troops like Butler and Chedville, Costillo calls this reasoning “dubious” because the couple was seeking federal benefits and the installation receives federal funds.
“Our client did not ask you to identify and provide any state-specific benefits, in recognition of her marriage, only to comply with the military’s polices — a condition of the extensive federal funding you receive,” Costillo writes.
But Lambda isn’t the only group asking Texas Military Forces to change its position. The LGBT group known as the American Military Partner Association made public a letter this week from 16 members of the Texas State House calling on Nichols to process benefits for same-sex military spouses at National Guard facilities in Texas.
“We call on you to respect Texas’ military families, to reconsider your position, and to follow the lead of virtually every other Adjutant General for the National Guard of the United States by, without further delay, enrolling all eligible spouses of National Guard service members at facilities operated by Texas Military Forces,” the letter states.
Also on Friday, the American Military Partner Association made public additional guidance indicating that Texas Military Forces not only won’t enroll same-sex couples into DEERS, but is also prohibiting them from becoming official members of family readiness groups or attend “Strong Bonds” marriage enrichment retreats.
Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, said the denial of benefits at Texas National Guard installations has “gone far beyond the ability of same-sex spouses to process for federal benefits at national guard facilities.”
“Considering Major General Nichols, the head of the Texas National Guard, has decided to defy the Defense Department and go so far as to threaten to prevent same-sex military spouses from participating in family readiness groups or even attend marriage enrichment retreats, who in the chain of command is making sure these military families are taken care of and get the support and benefits they need and deserve?” Peters concluded.