It’s been two months since Alicia Butler was denied federal benefits at Camp Mabry in Austin because the Texas National Guard refused to issue them to same-sex partners.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced late Thursday that he would direct national guards in every state to process benefits applications of same-sex spouses, reiterating his directive from August that spousal benefits for gay troops should be available across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court June decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
“But several states today are refusing to issue these ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities,” Hagel said during a speech before the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial meeting in New York City. “Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to.”
After Texas refused to process applications, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma stopped accepting them. Indiana and South Carolina later joined in sending same-sex spouses of National Guard troops to federal facilities to register.
Members of Congress have repeatedly called on Hagel to address the situation.
The American Military Partner Association, a group that supports spouses of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, praised Hagel’s action.
“Secretary Hagel has made it clear the national guard in these few rogue states are failing to live up to their obligations to military families under federal law,” AMPA President Stephen Peters said. “We applaud him in showing strong leadership by ordering the national guard in these states to comply and follow lawful direction and DoD policy. No matter what state of our great nation they serve in, no military spouse should be treated differently just because of their orientation.”
Hagel also aid Thursday he’s directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass “to take immediate action” to fix the situation.
“At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being declined and denied,” Hagel said. “The Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions.”
Lambda Legal’s Dallas office is representing Butler and has sent a letter to Major General John Nichols, adjutant general of the Texas Military Forces, telling him to follow Department of Defense guidelines for registering married same-sex couples. The organization has considered legal action, but hasn’t received a response to the letter.
Hopefully Hagel’s directions will be followed and resolve the situation.