Chuck Hagel wages war with National Guard for same-sex spousal benefits

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The United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, is at war with the National Guard, making sure that same-sex spouses receive their benefits.

Hagel ordered General Frank Grass to take “immediate action” after commanders in nine states—Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and West Virginia—refused to register same-sex spousal benefits, including identification cards that grant access to military bases. The Pentagon has reported that 114 Army and Air National Guard sites in those states have refused to issue identification cards to same-sex spouses.

Republican former U.S. Representative Allen West noted that by law the National Guard is under the power of each individual state’s governor, and it can only be federalized in cases of emergency. However, in 1957, President Eisenhower took command of the National Guard in order to battle school segregation in Arkansas (soldiers protected the Little Rock Nine). West also criticized Hagel’s laxness in combat ground forces, pointing out that the United States Army has just two trained combat brigades.

After the Supreme Court took down DOMA in June, it became federal law that same-sex spouses receive the same benefits as cross-sex couples, but some states have protested the conflict between state law and Pentagon Policy. Until those nine states start complying, same-sex couples will be forced to trek to federal military installations in order to register for their benefits.

At the Anti-Defamation League Centennial Dinner Keynote in New York on Thursday, October 31, Hagel delivered a speech addressing the dispute.

“Whether they are responding to natural disasters here at home in their states or fighting in Afghanistan, our National Guardsmen all wear the uniform of the United States of America,” said Hagel. “They are serving this country. They—and their families—are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all of our military men and women.

“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. This is wrong. It causes division among ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which [the Defense Department]has fought to extinguish.”

American political strategist and president of the Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, agrees that all guard members are entitled to benefits, regardless of orientation.

“Guard members and their families serve this country every day, and it is unacceptable that any state would make it unreasonably difficult for these heroes to access the benefits they are entitled to under federal law.”

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