As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court knocking down key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Department of Defense began equalizing benefits for gay and straight married couples. In September, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered National Guard units across the country to register married same-sex partners for ID cards so they could receive their federal benefits.
Texas refused and told same-sex spouses to register at federal bases, no matter how far they had to travel.
The benefits offered include access to the base for medical care, discounted shopping, housing allowances and legal assistance. If the military partner is wounded or killed, registration in the system is necessary for contacting next-of-kin.
On the first day of registration, Alicia Butler, a National Guard wife in Austin, tried to register at Camp Mabry where her wife is stationed.
Instead of entering her in the federal computer at the base, she was directed to Fort Hood about 75 miles away. Instead of driving that far with her 51⁄2-month-old baby, she contact Lambda Legal.
Lambda Legal contacted both the Department of Defense and Texas Military Forces to work out a solution.
Several states that originally registered same-sex spouses quickly followed Texas’ lead.
In November, the Department of Defense lost patience with states not complying with the federal order. Hagel sent each state a letter ordering it to begin registering same-sex spouses.
Although Texas continued to resist, the states were never in much of a position to bargain. Texas claimed it wouldn’t use state personnel or state facilities to register same-sex partners because it violated the state constitutional amendment banning recognition of anything similar to marriage.
Partners are registered in the DEERS system, a federal computer for tracking federal benefits placed by the federal government in every military installation, including National Guard bases.
The federal government also funds the National Guard, paying salaries of soldiers and employees. The federal government places the tanks, planes, guns, trucks and all the other equipment used by the Guard on the state bases. The federal government even pays most of the expense of building those bases.
So Texas’ claim that they wouldn’t use state employees or equipment to register spouses was grasping for ways to discriminate.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin refused to change her position. Instead, she decided the Oklahoma National Guard would comply by inconveniencing every National Guard spouse and send them all — gay and straight — to federal bases to apply for an ID card.
Texas claimed in its announcement of a compromise with the federal government that only federal employees would register same-sex spouses at National Guard bases. The state designated certain employees as federal — those that register military spouses — but Texas, somehow, believes it saved face.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 27, 2013.