November 27, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Texas Nat’l Guard agrees to process same-sex partner benefits
Alicia Butler, Judith Cedville, gay news, Washington Blade, Texas National Guard

Alicia Butler (left) and Judith Cedville with daugher, Jordan, were denied benefits from Texas Military Forces (Photo courtesy of Alicia Butler).

After initially resisting a Pentagon directive to enroll the same-sex spouses of troops into benefit programs, the Texas National Guard announced on Tuesday that it has come to an agreement that will allow its facilities to process these applications for gay service members.

In a statement on Tuesday, Texas Military Forces said the Defense Department has approved a new procedure in which the Pentagon will provide federal personnel, funding and the use of federal personnel systems to enroll the spouses of all troops — gay and straight — into the benefit system.

According to Texas Military Forces, which comprises the state’s national guard, this agreement resolves the conflict of the edict from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying spousal benefits should be available to gay troops everywhere and Texas’ state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“We look forward to having the ability to process the benefits our service members and their families are entitled to,” said Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, the state public affairs officer.

Although Hagel said spousal benefits for gay troops, including health, pension and housing benefits, should be available nationwide in August following the Supreme Court decision against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, Texas initially refused to process applications to grant the same-sex spouses of troops a military ID card, citing state law barring same-sex marriage.

After other states, including Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi, made similar announcements, Hagel issued a second edict saying he’s directed the National Guard Bureau to ensure states comply, threatening unspecified consequences if they continued to refuse.

Jennifer Atkinson, a Texas National Guard spokesperson, confirmed that same-sex couples are now able to apply for spousal benefits at installations within the state.

“Couples can now apply at Texas bases — including Camp Mabry,” Atkinson said. “Since the Department of Defense (DoD) directed the enrollment of same-sex spouses effective Sept. 3, 2013, we have worked diligently with the Pentagon and the National Guard Bureau to find a solution that would allow us to follow Texas state law while adhering to DoD policy.”

Atkinson later clarified that same-sex couples can apply for benefits at all installations with Real-Time Automated Personnel Identification Systems.

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agreement only applies to Texas and not other states that are still holding out. Still, the official said the Pentagon views the decision as welcome news.

According to the National Guard Bureau, the decision from Texas to acquiesce means Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana are the only states that have yet to comply.

On Nov. 7, Oklahoma announced that its state-run national guard facilities are getting out of the business of processing benefits altogether and are directing everyone — gay and straight — to federally-run installations within the state. However, Oklahoma isn’t considered a non-compliant state.

Following the announcement, Alicia Butler, a lesbian who was earlier blocked from enrolling into the benefits system with her spouse, First Lt. Judith Chedville, re-applied for those benefits at Camp Mabry later on Wednesday and received her military ID.

“I am so pleased to have this spousal ID card and begin to access a range of benefits,” Butler said in a statement. “My wife served our country and our family needs support like all military families.”

Lambda Legal, which had represented Butler and wrote a letter calling on Texas Military Forces to reverse its earlier decision to block enrollment, praised the change.

“We are thrilled for Alicia and Judith who just wanted to take steps, like all military families, to access critical support networks and benefits provided to families of service members,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Paul Castillo. “Texas Military Forces implements a host of federal benefits programs for all National Guard units in the state and it should be no different for married same-sex couples.”

An LGBT advocate, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the purported change announced by the Texas Military Forces is a “crock” because federal funds and systems were already being used to enroll spouses in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System. The announced change, the advocate said, is a way for Texas Military Forces to save face as it acquiesced to the Pentagon’s demands.

After issuing a statement Tuesday evening criticizing the Texas National Guard for adopting a system similar to Oklahoma’s, the American Military Partners Association issued a second statement Wednesday praising the move, saying they since received clarification on the decision.

“We applaud the Texas Military Forces for changing course and the Department of Defense for making sure this issue is resolved in Texas,” said AMPA President Stephen Peters. “All military spouses, regardless of orientation or gender, deserve to treated with the same dignity, respect, and support for their sacrifices in support of our nation, no matter what state they serve in. We urge the remaining states who have not yet complied with Department of Defense policy to do so quickly and affirm their commitment to all military families.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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