September 3, 2013 at 11:22 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Texas Nat’l Guard withholding spousal benefits for gay troops
Alicia Butler, Judith Cedville, gay news, Washington Blade, Texas National Guard

Alicia Butler (left) and Judith Cedville with daugher, Jordan. (Photo courtesy of Alicia Butler)

Amid celebration for many gay service members on the day that the Pentagon begins to award same-sex spousal benefits, the Texas Military Forces is withholding such benefits for gay troops on the basis that state law prohibits same-sex marriage.

Alicia Butler, an Austin, Texas, attorney, said she was rejected when she tried to register with the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, the military’s health benefits system, when she applied on Tuesday at Camp Mabry, where her spouse, Judith Chedville, a nurse and Iraq war veteran, is stationed as a member of the National Guard.

“We were told that Texas would not register us into the system and would not issue an ID card for me,” Butler said. “We were told that if she was active duty they would do that for me, but not for a National Guard member because she’s part of the Texas National Guard.”

The explanation the couple was given, Butler said, was that they were denied because she and her spouse are the same gender. Butler said she and her spouse were legally married in California.

Butler added she and her spouse were directed to another facility in Texas that is run by the federal government.

“They told us to go to a different facility, such as Ft. Hood in San Antonio, where the federal government runs the facility, so that we could get the ID card,” Butler said. “That’s an hour-and-a-half drive for me, and we have a five-month-old, so that’s kind of hard.”

But Butler, 43, added even if she and her spouse made that trip, Camp Mabry would still not recognize her as the spouse of Chedville, 38, at that facility.

“We were also told that even if my spouse went there without me and got the registration and that all taken care of, Camp Mabry still would not take my photograph and issue the ID, which is something that’s normally done,” Butler said.

Butler said she was left with the impression that Camp Mabry would continue to deny benefits for guard members with same-sex spouses “indefinitely.”

Tuesday marks the first day that the U.S. armed forces started offering partner benefits, including military IDs, to troops with same-sex spouses after a period of implementation this year. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, gay troops are now eligible for major spousal benefits, including health and pension benefits as well as equal access to housing.

Butler said she was denied benefits as the American Military Partner Association, an LGBT military group, says it was leaked guidance indicating that Texas Military Forces, or the Texas National Guard, wouldn’t honor the U.S. armed forces’ plan to begin offering partner benefits to gay troops because the Texas Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage.

“The TXMF is a state agency under the authority and direction of the Texas state government,” the guidance states. “Therefore, the TXMF must consider that the Texas Constitution and Texas Family Code 6.204 conflicts with the DoD policy extending benefits to same-sex spouses. Due to this potential conflict, we are unable to enroll same-sex families into DEERs at our state supported facilities until we receive legal clarification.”

Similar to what Butler and Chedville were told, the guidance says troops who are affected by this issue should seek a federal facility to apply for benefits.

“However, the TXMF remains committed to ensuring its military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled,” the guidance states. “As such, we encourage anyone affected by this issue to enroll for benefits at a federal installation.”

The American Military Partner Association has a photo of the guidance written on an official and letterhead signed by Adjutant General Maj. Gen. John Nichols. It’s posted at the end of this article.

Laura Lopez, a Texas Military Forces spokesperson, confirmed the guidance is accurate, but said she doesn’t known when the legal uncertainty cited in the guidance will be resolved.

“Our goal in the Texas Military Forces is to provide the benefits available to our Soldiers and Airmen under existing federal law and policy, while also adhering to applicable Texas state law,” Lopez said. “The Texas Military Forces will continue to follow state law until legal clarification is determined. It is important to note that Soldiers and Airmen are not being denied these benefits, there are multiple locations throughout the state where they can enroll for same sex benefits.”

Lopez added unlike Fort Hood or Randolph Air Force Base, Camp Mabry receives state funding for property, equipment, and personnel, so personnel and the operation of facilities are subject to Texas state law.

“Despite the legal conflict, the TXMF remains committed to ensuring military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled,” Lopez said. “As such, we fully support same-sex families enrolling for benefits at the nearest federal installation.”

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, said apparent decision to withhold benefits is a “disgrace” for Texas and Texas Gov. Rick Perry “should be ashamed.”

“Our military families are already facing enough challenges, and discrimination from the state of Texas only compounds those challenges,” Peter said. “It’s simply disgusting that Gov. Perry would try to play politics with our military families. Considering the far majority of the funding for the Texas Guard facilities comes from the federal government, I don’t believe they have a leg to stand on.”

Jeremy Johnson, co-chair of the newly formed LGBT military group SPART*A, said withholding benefits to gay troops in Texas amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination and the issue should be resolved immediately.

“The Department of Defense no longer discriminates against same-sex military families and instead embraces them as an important part of the support structure for uniformed members,” Johnson said. “This announcement by Texas Military Forces makes clear that that they are either unwilling or incapable of doing the same. If that is the case, the Department of Defense must ensure that there is no question about the rights of same-sex military families and their ability to access the benefits to which they are entitled.”

According to the Associated Press, the Mississippi National Guard will join Texas in refusing to grant benefits to gay troops with same-sex spouses, but only at state-owned facilities. A spokesperson was quoted as saying Mississippi National Guard offices on federal property would accept the applications.

But the AP also reported that officials in 13 other states that ban same-sex marriage — including Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and Georgia — said offices would follow the federal directive and process all couples’ applications for benefits the same way.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said he’s unable to confirm the Texas guidance, but said federal military installations in the state will provide a military ID to troops with same-sex spouses.

“All Federal Military installations in Texas will issue IDs to all who provide a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage,” Christensen said.

Apparent guidance from the Texas Military Forces saying it won't provide partner benefits to troops with same-sex spouses (Screenshot courtesy American Military Partners Association).

Apparent guidance from the Texas Military Forces saying it won’t provide partner benefits to troops with same-sex spouses (Screenshot courtesy American Military Partners Association).

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

  • I wonder if Texas would be so willing to say, "we'll work on it" if all the National Guard members refused orders because, "It might conflict with what the federal government would want us to do at this time and we'll need farther guidance and legal council."

  • Texas should just… go away. Forever.

  • I recognize that the installation is Texas owned and operated, but does the Pentagon plan to intervene in any way? For good order and discipline, if nothing else.

    • Operated maybe, but not owned. The federal government pays for pretty much all their stuff and they have to follow federal law. Texas merely implements rules. They have no say in making them.

      The Constitution is very, very clear about this:
      “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress”

  • That's crazy

  • This illustrates the devolution of the red states. As we try to move forward as a country, the south digs their heels in and goes retroactive to the 1950's. Face it, if they had their way, women, minorities,& LGBT persons would not have the right to vote, let alone the freedom to the pursuit of happiness.

  • Fuck Tejas. Give it back to Mexico.

  • TX National Guard receives federal funding, therefore is subject to federal laws and regulations. They are in violation of military policy. POTUS should federalize the Guard to override this.

  • Unfortunately, they'd be glad to. They are quite quick to remind everyone that they were once their own nation and don't really have to be team players.

  • The Obama Administration recently declared Equal Treatment For All Same-Sex Marriages Under Tax Code no matter even if said married couple moved to a state which does not allow for same sex marriage….so….. it would appear that we have yet another incongruency between state and federal laws to deal with that are in line and backed by that ruling…..and which may help to set precedent and congruency in this arena going forward….

  • If they will not issue the IDs and follow the policy, ALL federal funding should be pulled.

  • I sense that this might be an important story … but the reporting is utter shite. I actually feel dumber having read it.

    A few questions:

    Was it a denial of benefits or a redirect to a federal facility?
    If the facility in question is a Nat’l Guard facility? And if so, how does that play into the equation, seeing that that the Nat’l Guard units are administered by the states?

    Seriously bad reporting. Shame on the BLADE.

  • It’s as if the writer and editor had no idea that the Nat’l Guard units were state-sponsored militias — that’s the only conclusion one can draw, seeing the state issue is not addressed AT ALL.

    • Maybe you should actually read the Constitution some time. The states only run those so-called “militias” under the laws and guidelines set by Congress and the federal government. They don’t pay for them either.

      Then then there is the fact that’s only Texas that’s being stupid about this. That tells you that this is just a manufactured controversy and not true or legal.

      • Oy vey.

        I’ve read it. And you made my point for me: the states run the Guard units. And how do you know other states haven’t / aren’t doing this? Anyway … it’s a shite article. Here’s hoping someone willing to put in the legwork writes a better treatment so we can have an educated discussion on the matter.

        (And here’s hoping SCOTUS gets a good case to knock all this silliness to the curb, making marriage equality the law of the land.)

  • As a pro-equality straight man from a northern state, I am going to open my pop-corn as I watch these southern homophobes are about to have their a–es handed to them by the federal courts. What? Did they expect they can just say 'no' and that's the end of the matter? The disgusting world of phobia and discrimination that they inhabit is about to collapse again, for the second time in 50 years. It is going to be entertaining to watch.

  • People like Rick Perry make my ashamed to be from Texas.

  • and Texas voluntarily gave up its right to be a sovereign country, believe me not all Texans are like these bigots. There's 4 million or so democrats in Texas and we're steadily gaining the majority.

  • Mexico wouldn't take Texas back, gay marriage is legally recognize in Mexico and not all Texans are as stupid and backward as Rick Perry and his neocons.

  • Fort Hood is in Killeen. Ft Sam Houston is in San Antonio. So male the hour and a half drive. Many guard families have to drive hours to get to military facilities. Yrs, its a shame but its true. Guard isn't active duty.

  • Once again, there's ugly historic precedent for this—and BECAUSE there is, the DOD should have anticipated it and preemptively done a much better job of ordering Guards to immediately, unequivocally comply. The precedent: though racial integration was completed throughout active duty forces in 1953, as of 1962 there were still TEN segregated state guard units. And those only integrated after the federal government threatened to withhold funding. TexASS Gov. Perry is to gays today what Alabama's George WallASS was to blacks 45 years ago. Eventually he'll fall into the same dustbin of History, but WE'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE in terms of bigots resisting change in the military and society generally, and there was NO NEED for it to have repeated itself.

  • This seems pretty easy – the Court has recognized this as an Equal Protection issue. The Federal Constitution trumps state constitutions. Why isn't isn't this an easy case to overturn Texas' constitutional ban on same sex marriage?

  • First of all, RICK PERRY is not really a governor…nor a real politician…he is A JOKE just like GeeDubbya…for which Texans are so dually noted.
    SECCESSION for Texas is the ultimate desire of every other citizen in this country…with a few exceptions. But really…Texas should belong to MEXICO.

  • Just export all of those democrats our way before that happens!!! We could use about 4 million or so good people our neck of the woods.

  • Steve Williams Excuse me, there are plenty of us here in Texas who have no intention of going anywhere, and are working to change things. It is a hard battle but we're not giving up. Believe in that.

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