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Texas, Mississippi Guards won’t help gay spouses get benefits

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Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 4:30 am

The Texas and Mississippi National Guards will not help same-sex spouses enroll for federal benefits, despite a Pentagon directive requiring the military to treat all married couples equally.

Maj. Gen. John Nichols, commanding general of Texas Military Forces, said in an internal memo dated Aug. 30 that the Texas Constitution and the state’s “Family Code” do not align with the Defense Department policy, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced last month.

“Due to this potential conflict, we are unable to enroll same-sex families ... at our state-supported facilities until we receive legal clarification,” Nichols said. The Texas National Guard clarified in a statement that it has requested guidance from the state’s attorney general’s office but did not say whether it was consulting with the Pentagon.

The National Guard Bureau, which oversees units throughout the country, said the Mississippi National Guard has cited similar statutory reasons in refusing to assist gay spouses with enrollment for federal benefits.

Spokesman Jon Anderson said the agency will “continue to coordinate with the respective states and the Department of Defense regarding a resolution to this important matter.”

Sept. 3 marked the first day that gays in the military could apply for benefits after the Pentagon’s announcement last month, which came in response to a Supreme Court decision that overturned a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act this year. In response, the federal government has said it will provide legally married gay couples with the same federal tax, health, Social Security and other benefits that opposite-sex couples receive.

Processing issue

The Texas National Guard said Sept. 4 that its policy will not prevent same-sex spouses from applying for federal benefits. “It is important to note that this is not a denial of benefits, rather it is a processing issue,” said agency spokeswoman Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor.

Nichols’ memo encourages couples affected by the Texas policy to enroll for benefits at one of the state’s federal installations, such as Fort Hood and Joint Base San Antonio. “Despite the legal conflict, the Texas Military Forces remains committed to ensuring military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen said that federal military installations in all states will issue IDs to all those who provide a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage.

Gay-rights advocates have criticized the state policies for requiring married gay couples to navigate complicated workarounds.

“Our military families are already dealing with enough problems, and the last thing they need is more discrimination,” said Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association.

Christensen declined to comment on whether the Pentagon is reviewing the Texas and Mississippi policies or whether the Defense Department can force the states to process applications.

It is not clear how many couples will be affected by the state policies. “As sexual orientation is a private and personal matter, the Texas Military Forces does not track the number of personnel in same-sex relationships or those of gay/lesbian orientation,” the Texas National Guard said last week.

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