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How will Obama handle National Guard units disobeying fed’l directive?

4 states refusing order to process spousal benefits for gay troops



Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade
Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, Washington Blade, gay news

President Obama (right) could follow Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower, who both federalized National Guard units. (Photos of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy public domain. Washington Blade photo of Barack Obama by Michael Key).

As National Guard units in several states refuse to process spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, one advocate says there’s a unique — yet unlikely — solution: President Obama could federalize the state units.

Ret. Lt. Col. Chris Rowzee, spokesperson on National Guard affairs for the American Military Partner Association, raised the possibility of federalizing the National Guard units to ensure states offer spousal benefits to gay troops.

“This would be an extreme example, but they could … federalize the troops, and in that case, the state governor would have zero say over what the guard unit then does,” Rowzee said. “We certainly hope that it doesn’t come to something like that. We hope that the governors of these states recognize that the right thing to do for these guardsman and these families is to give them support and the entitlements to which they are entitled.”

Rowzee added she’s not calling for Obama to take control of the National Guard units, but noted she wants some kind of response from the Obama administration.

At least four states — Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana — are refusing to give troops in same-sex marriages military IDs for their partners by denying these couples’ applications at state-run facilities. That hampers the couples’ ability to receive health, pension and housing benefits afforded to other service members.

Despite an Aug. 13 directive from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying these benefits should be available nationwide, even in non-marriage equality states, these four states are citing state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage as the reason they cannot enroll these couples into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.

The American Military Partners Association has called for a response from the Obama administration to prompt a change from the state National Guards. The more obvious method that has been discussed before is a deprivation of federal funds for these installations as a result of disobeying a federal directive.

Chris Jenks, a former Army judge advocate general and law professor at Southern Methodist University, said federalizing elements of the National Guard and withholding funds are both viable options for Obama.

“Ultimately, if the governors of the four states persist in their order to their state National Guards to not provide benefits to same-sex married guard members, the governors run a risk that the president will federalize those state national guards,” Jenks said. “One hopes it wouldn’t come to that. But if the gay rights movement is the civil rights struggle of our time, it will be interesting to see how far the first African-American president will allow state governors to countermand him.”

In the 1950s, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard when the governor of that state was using it to enforce racial discrimination at Little Rock Central High School. In 1963, President Kennedy took similar action in Alabama to desegregate the University of Alabama.

The situation today, of course, isn’t exactly parallel. Eisenhower and Kennedy federalized the units in Arkansas and Alabama to force integration of schools – not to make the guard units themselves operate in a non-discriminatory manner.

Under the relevant statute, the president would have to declare a national emergency in order to bring the National Guard units of those states under his direct command.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is asking for a federal response to the situation, but does not endorse the idea of federalizing the National Guard units.

“We are urging Secretary Hagel to talk to these state governments about the need to have uniformity and fairness for all service members in accessing the benefits to which they are entitled by law,” Sainz said.

The Obama administration has been quiet on the issue of individual National Guard units resisting the order for nationwide spousal benefits for gay troops.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no immediate answer when the Washington Blade asked if Obama was aware of the issue and believes these units are violating federal policy. Carney deferred to the Pentagon, but also said he could take the question and talk about the issue later. As of last week, the Blade had not received a White House response.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, would only say troops in same-sex marriages are able to enroll at federal installations.

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

But Rowzee maintained that directing troops to travel to a federal installation isn’t an adequate solution to the problem. For starters, the issue isn’t just enrollment for benefits, but also participation in guard activities like family readiness programs.

“The rationale that they are using to deny giving me the ID cards to begin with is rationale that very easily could be applied to even something as simple at the spouse being given access to the base, being able to drive to the base to pick up her guardsmen from a deployment,” Rowzee said.

Legal experts who spoke with the Blade agreed the decision to refuse to process these applications violates federal law.

SMU’s Jenks said these states are caught between state and federal governments, but are ultimately exceeding their authority.

“I think the state governments have overreached and it’s unfortunate that they are using the National Guard in a politicized fashion, that’s not why the National Guard exists,” Jenks said. “Ultimately these efforts by the states will not be successful.”

One initiative that has emerged as states have begun to withhold these benefits from gay troops is a petition led by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Military Partner Association calling on the Pentagon to reaffirm that all married military personnel are eligible for these benefits.

Another group that is pursuing action on the issue in Texas is Lambda Legal. Representing Alicia Butler and Judith Chedville, a lesbian military couple denied benefits at Camp Mabry, Lambda sent a letter on Sept. 13 to Texas Military Forces saying current policy “fails its troops and their families.” The letter requests a response in 10 days.

Paul Castillo, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said he “absolutely” thinks Texas is violating federal law by denying benefits to troops in same-sex marriages.

“The state law does not inhibit the National Guard from completing a federal mission,” Castillo said. “The DEERS system and benefit administration is federally funded along with the personnel operating the system, so there’s no reason for them to discriminate in issuing the spousal IDs and enrolling them in the DEERS system.”

Castillo said Texas confirmed receipt of the letter. Since that time, Castillo said communications between Lambda and the state are ongoing, although he couldn’t elaborate on them.

Whether a lawsuit is in the works by any of these groups remains to be seen. None would rule out the possibility of litigation if nothing changes at these guard units.

For Rowzee, the decision of these guard units to withhold benefits is particularly disappointing in the wake of advancements in marriage equality throughout the country following the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Do I honestly believe that the governor of Texas will be forever able to defy a DOD directive? No, and I think he knows that,” Rowzee said. “I think he’s using this issue to try to gain political points, and the problem is it harms people in the meantime. It harms our military families.”



Dina Titus introduces bill to require U.S. to promote LGBTQ, intersex rights abroad

White House reconsidering aid to Uganda over Anti-Homosexuality Act



U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nevada) (Screen capture via Dina Titus YouTube)

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) on Thursday introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad through its foreign policy.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality, the National Center for Transgender Equality, ORAM (Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration), Outright International, Rainbow Railroad and the Trevor Project are among the organizations that support the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act. U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) will introduce the bill in the U.S. Senate. 

Titus on Tuesday told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview the bill, among other things, would endorse the selective use of existing sanctions to punish those responsible for murders and other human rights abuses against LGBTQ and intersex people. She also said the measure would require the State Department to allow LGBTQ and intersex people to choose their gender marker on passports and other travel documents.

“It’s a way of putting into action our attempts to be a leader in the area of LGBTQ+ rights and to be a leader, not just at home, but around the world,” said Titus.

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy.

Jessica Stern has been the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights since 2021. She told the Blade in a previous interview the White House’s continued support of LGBTQ and intersex rights includes marriage equality in countries where activists say such a thing is possible through legislation or the judicial process.

The State Department last year began to offer passports with an “X” gender marker. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has delivered millions of doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield in March chaired a U.N. meeting that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

Biden, along with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) others, have condemned the signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The National Security Council has said it will “evaluate” the law’s implications in terms of U.S. aid to the country.

Titus is among the lawmakers who have previously introduced bills that are similar to the GLOBE Act. 

She noted the Anti-Homosexuality Act when she spoke with the Blade. Titus also discussed Republican-led efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights in Florida and other states.

“It’s harder, certainly, to get Republicans on board, but I’m optimistic,” she said when asked if she expects any Republicans will co-sponsor his bill. “The more they hear from their constituents and the more they see the backlash to what some state legislatures are doing and the more they hear from members of their own families, I think that we may get some to join us in this.”

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Mark Milley defends cancellation of drag show at Nevada Air Force base

Move followed pressure from anti-LGBTQ Rep. Gaetz



U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (Official photo via U.S. Department of Defense)

U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN’s Oren Liebermann during an interview Monday that last week’s cancellation of a drag show at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada was “the absolute right thing to do.”

The top U.S. military officer said the decision came from U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, but added that he agreed with the move.

A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Washington Blade on Thursday that Milley informed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base. 

He echoed those comments during Monday’s interview, asserting that the performances “were never part of [Department of Defense] policy to begin with, and they’re certainly not funded by federal funds.”

“DoD resources should be used for mission-essential operations, not diverted toward initiatives that create cultural fissures within our service ranks,” anti-LGBTQ U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said in a May 23 letter to Milley and Austin.

“I find it completely unacceptable that DoD is using taxpayer dollars to fund DEI programs that are divisive in nature,” said Gaetz, referring to diversity, equity, and inclusion – programs typically administered by corporations that have increasingly become targets of conservative outrage.

Milley pushed back on accusations that the military had “gone woke” during the interview, which took place in Normandy, France, marking the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion into Nazi-occupied Europe on June 6, 1944.

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Chris Christie, Mike Pence officially enter 2024 presidential race

Former vice president has long anti-LGBTQ record



Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and former Vice President Mike Pence (R) (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

During a town hall event Tuesday in New Hampshire and in a launch video released Wednesday morning, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and former Vice President Mike Pence (R) entered the 2024 presidential race.

For years, both were staunch allies of the current Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, breaking with him only after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which came after Pence’s refusal to overturn the 2020 election results and prompted Christie to declare Trump unfit for a second term.

Echoing other critical comments he has made in recent months, the former governor’s announcement Tuesday directly took aim at Trump, “a lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog” who “is not a leader.”

For his part, Pence neither mentioned Trump by name nor included any photos or video footage of the former president in his announcement video, acknowledging him only indirectly by asserting that “different times call for different leadership.”

Christie, Pence, and Trump will also be squaring off against several other Republican candidates in the GOP presidential primary: former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who also served in the Trump administration, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, talk radio host Larry Elder, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

An evangelical born-again Christian, Pence has opposed LGBTQ rights stridently and consistently throughout his career in politics as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, as governor of Indiana, and then as vice president.

Declaring him the “Worst Vice President for LGBTQ People In Modern History,” the Human Rights Campaign chronicled a list of Pence’s anti-LGBTQ actions and statements over the years, including his endorsement of conversion therapy and opposition to hate crime laws for their inclusion of violence motivated by animus toward the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

In February, a group formed by Pence and financed by his supporters ran ads in Iowa to rally conservative opposition to pro-trans policies in schools.

By contrast, Christie has a far more moderate record with respect to LGBTQ matters. “If someone is born that way, it’s very difficult to say then that that’s a sin,” he said in 2013, while signing New Jersey’s ban on conversion therapy.

The GLAAD Accountability Project, however, notes Christie’s veto of a bill in 2014 that would have allowed trans people in the state to change the gender designation listed on their birth certificates. The group also highlighted his veto of a marriage equality bill in 2012.

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