All state national guards are now compliant with an edict from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requiring them to processing spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, according to the Pentagon.
In a statement provided to the Washington Blade, Hagel confirmed that all gay service members can apply for military IDs for their spouses at military installations throughout the country.
“Following consultations between the National Guard Bureau and the Adjutants General of the states, all eligible service members, dependents and retirees — including same-sex spouses — are now able to obtain ID cards in every state,” Hagel said.
A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mississippi, the last remaining hold-out state, came on board sometime this week, although the official didn’t have an exact date for when that happened. The official said Mississippi is adopting a policy similar to Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, which are placing state workers on federal status to process same-sex benefit applications.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, Hagel announced military spousal benefits — including health, pension and housing benefits — will become available to gay troops.
However, certain state national guards, such as Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi, refused to process the spousal benefits applications from gay troops, citing state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. During an Anti-Defamation League meeting in October, said each of these states must comply and he directed National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Frank Grass to find a way to bring them on board.
One by one, the state national guards announced they would comply with the policy. Texas Military Forces, which had been the first state to announce it wouldn’t process the benefits, announced last month it would come on board. Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi later followed suit.
“All military spouses and families sacrifice on behalf of our country,” Hagel concluded. “They deserve our respect and the benefits they are entitled to under the law. 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.”
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization helped in the effort to encourage state national guards to process same-sex benefits by writing letters to the Pentagon as well as governors in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas.
“In the end, it’s Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel who deserves credit for taking decisive action,” Sainz said. “Hagel delivered a speech in late October in which he demanded that these state national guard outposts heed federal law and Department of Defense policy or risk punitive action. That demand has now produced results all across the country.”
Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted his organization petitioned Hagel to ensure these states comply with federal policy and called the latest news a welcome development.
“This is a welcome announcement, and one that Secretary Hagel deserves credit for making happen,” Thompson said. “The resistance on the part of some governors on extending these benefits to same-sex couples was a grossly unfair violation of federal law that turned the promise of equal treatment for all military personnel on its head.”
Although all states are now considered compliant, Oklahoma, Florida and South Carolina are conforming to the Hagel edict by directing all spousal benefit applicants — gay and straight — away from state-run installations to federal facilities within those states to avoid conflict between state law and federal policy. These states moved all their ID card machines to federal installations, so they’re still processing benefits at full capacity.
Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, commended Hagel for ensuring each state national guard is compliant with his edict on same-sex benefits, but said additional action is necessary.
“We applaud the administration and Secretary Hagel for seeing this issue through and ensuring all state national guards are compliant,” Peter said. “However, our military families serving in non-marriage equality states still face discouraging challenges because of the discrimination and exclusion by state governments. We look forward to the day when our military families are treated equally in all 50 states of our nation.”