Despite orders from the Pentagon, six states are refusing to process same-sex couples’ military benefits.
In the name of states’ rights, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia are directing couples to federal bases, which are often considerably further away than their local state military bases, to file for military spousal ID cards, which are required to receive benefits.
When the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down in June 2013, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made it clear that same-sex married couples were henceforth entitled to the same military benefits as heterosexual couples.
In early November 2013, with over a hundred Army and Air National Guard sites known to be refusing to issue ID cards to eligible same-sex spouses, the Florida National Guard issued a statement that read in part, “enrollment into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System can be accomplished at any Florida National Guard facility responsible for initial benefits enrollment. The Florida National Guard is in full compliance with both federal and state statutes and governing policies.”
Hagel condemned the sites’ violation of federal orders. “The balance between security and civil rights sends an important message to the world. At the Department of Defense, we work to preserve America’s individual liberties as well as defend our freedom,” Hagel said at a meeting of the Anti-Defamation League, according to the Tampa Tribune. “When the Supreme Court issued its decision on the Defense of Marriage Act this summer, the Department of Defense immediately began working on providing the same benefits to all eligible spouses, regardless of sexual orientation. We did it because everyone who serves our country in uniform should receive the full benefits they earned, fairly and in accordance with the law. Everyone’s rights must be protected.
“This is wrong. It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD [the Department of Defense]has fought to extinguish.”
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, said that directing same-sex couples to federal bases “protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people,” even though in the case of a conflict between federal law and state law, states must follow federal law. (Technically, this means that the various state laws legalizing medical or recreational cannabis, when federal law criminalizes both, are unconstitutional.)
One couple, Texas Army National Guard officer Judith Chedville and her wife Alicia Butler, tried to register for marriage benefits and get an ID card for Butler, but Camp Mabry in Austin sent them to Fort Hood, seventy miles away; if they were a heterosexual couple, they would have been able to file at the state office.
Texas officials claimed the selective requirement is only a minor inconvenience, but Butler told the Tampa Tribune it was reminiscent of “separate but equal” laws in the South. “Sometimes it’s about the indignities you make people go through.”