Lambda Legal demands Texas Guard start registering spouses

Posted on 20 Sep 2013 at 9:00am

American Military Partner Association is putting pressure on the Department of Defense to have TXMF comply with federal guidelines

Paul.Castillo

Paul Castillo

 

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

Lambda Legal is demanding that Texas Military Forces register same-sex couples as they do opposite-sex couples to receive federal benefits.

The Dallas office of Lambda Legal 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.

Nichols has delayed taking any action by asking for an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Paul Castillo, staff attorney in the Dallas office of Lambda Legal, said he is representing Alicia Butler, the wife of Iraq War veteran Judith Chedville who serves in the Texas Army National Guard. The couple lives in Austin and Butler was turned away two weeks ago from Camp Mabry on the first day of registration for federal benefits in the federal Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).

Butler, who has a 6-month-old baby, said she hasn’t been able to get up to  Fort Hood, 70 miles away, to register yet.

“We urged them to reverse their position,” Castillo said. “At this point all options are on the table.”

He said no decisions have been made about a next step, but Lambda Legal requested a response within 10 days. Castillo would not talk about possible future litigation but that option is being considered.

After Texas refused to register same-sex spouses into the system, Mississippi and Louisiana followed suit at state offices, but apparently were continuing to register on Guard bases.

This week, Oklahoma has decided to stop registering same-sex spouses. And Florida has dodged the question. Florida’s National Guard asked its attorney general for an opinion, which he declined to issue.

Castillo called the ID spouses acquire through the DEERS system the gateway to all other benefits. That includes being the point of contact should the military spouse be injured or killed in the line of duty.

“Texas Military Forces voluntarily implements a host of federal benefits programs for all National Guard units in the state,” Castillo said. “To send married same-sex couples on a detour to register for federal benefits while imposing no such burden on other military families is discrimination, pure and simple.”

He said no matter how minor the inconvenience, it departs from the promise of equality.

“The discriminatory treatment of lesbian and gay spouses of service members, including those in the Army National Guard in Texas, is illegal. See United States v. Windsor,” Castillo wrote in his letter to Nichols.

He argues it’s also detrimental to good order, discipline and morale, and fails to give all soldiers dignity and respect, which are guiding principles of the military.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and American Military Partner Association want the Department of Defense to step in. A petition asking the Department of Defense to intervene is on the ACLU website.

“The vast majority of funding for the National Guard comes from the federal government,” said AMPA spokeswoman Chris Rowzee.

“Aircraft, trucks, tanks, they’re owned by the federal government so you think they’d have a say in it.”

She said the false argument Texas is using is the state has a right to not use state assets to recognize a same-sex couple. But she said most of the full-time employees on guard bases are federal employees and DEERS is a federal computer system. State assets would not be touched.

Rowzee said she wondered what governors are thinking in an age of sequestration and closing of military bases when the Department of Defense could easily redeploy equipment to places that complied.

Finally, she said the order goes against all principles of military readiness.

The first step is to make sure the family is taken care of, Rowzee said, so the troops can focus on the mission at hand.

She compared the situation to federal orders to desegregate the troops in the 1950s. A number of states objected to integrating their National Guard units.

“In the end, they had to comply,” she said.

Lambda Legal agrees, hoping Texas will reverse course.

“Ultimately, we expect they will reconsider their position and treat same-sex spouses equally,” Castillo said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 20, 2013.

 

 

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