Pentagon: Guard Units in Every State Now On Board with Same-Sex Benefits

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

In a December 13 written statement, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that every state is now complying with his order that National Guard units provide Department of Defense identification cards to all military spouses regardless of their sexual orientation.

In August, the Pentagon –– responding to the June Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages –– directed that all married military personnel, in different-sex and same-sex unions, be accorded full access to spousal benefits. National Guard units are overseen by state governments, and a number of them in the South, citing their ban on marriage by same-sex couples, declined to issue gay and lesbian spouses the ID cards necessary to access benefits. In October, Hagel stepped in to order compliance, and since then, those states that were resisting found workarounds that involve some role for federal employees to satisfy the states’ objections to being directly involved in issuing the IDs and thereby recognizing the marriages. In Oklahoma, all married spouses, gay and straight, will now have their ID cards issued by federal personnel.

The two last states to fall in line were Georgia and Mississippi this week. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, same-sex spouses of personnel at more than 70 National Guard units across Georgia will get their identification processed at two federal facilities –– Fort Benning Armory in Columbus and the Clay National Guard Center in Marietta. That state has roughly 13,000 National Guard personnel, according to the newspaper.

“We are abiding by the constitutional mandate from the state perspective,” the newspaper quoted Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, saying. “We have strictly advised our National Guard to honor and abide by the constitutional provision and they are doing so.”

Georgia’s approach is similar to the solution worked out previously in Texas and Louisiana and in its immediate wake by Mississippi.

Hagel’s statement offered no indication of the fractious process by which the states that were out of compliance were brought to heel.

“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,” he said. “All military spouses and families sacrifice on behalf of our country. 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.”

Ian Thompson, the Washington-based legislative representative at the American Civil Liberties Union, was more direct in assessing the process that led to full compliance.

“This is a welcome announcement, and one that Secretary Hagel deserves credit for making happen,” he said of the Pentagon chief’s statement. “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. The ACLU is pleased to have partnered with the American Military Partner Association on a national petition urging the Department of Defense to ensure that same-sex military couples could not be denied equal access to the federal benefits to which they were entitled.”