Nov. 26, 2013
CORRECTION, Nov. 27: This post has been corrected and updated. The American Military Partner Association now says it believes the Texas National Guard will process benefits applications from same-sex couples at all facilities, including five state-controlled National Guard facilities that were not previously doing so. Read more here and here.
Taking a page out of Oklahoma’s book, the Texas National Guard reportedly plans to halt all applications for spousal benefits at state-owned National Guard facilities to avoid processing them for gay couples.
The San Antonio Express-News reports that both gay and straight spouses can now apply for benefits at one of five Texas National Guard facilities. Earlier this month, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin drew heavy criticism for a similar move requiring all couples — gay and straight — to register at one of four federally owned National Guard facilities in the Sooner State.
The Express-News story paints the Texas National Guard’s new policy as a compromise or even a victory for same-sex couples. However, an LGBT military families group slammed the policy, calling it “dangerous” because it could foster animosity toward gay couples among heterosexual couples who are forced to travel longer distances to sign up for benefits.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military to treat all legally married couples equally in August, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. But the Texas National Guard has refused to provide ID cards or process housing allowances for gay spouses at its facilities, saying they must instead travel to federal active-duty bases to apply for benefits.
Officials in Texas, Oklahoma and several other states have taken the position that processing the benefits applications from gay spouses would violate state laws prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages. On Tuesday, the Texas National Guard announced the Defense Department had approved a procedure at resolving the conflict.
“The new procedure essentially recognizes the conflict between the Texas Constitution and DOD policy mandating the enrollment of same-gender dependent spouses in benefits programs. Under the new procedure, DOD will provide federal personnel, funding, and the use of federal personnel systems to enroll all dependents, including those in same-sex marriages, in benefits programs,” the Texas National Guard said in a statement. “This solution ensures that no Texas National Guard personnel in a state status will violate the Texas Constitution.”
“We look forward to having the ability to process the benefits our service members and their families are entitled to,” said Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, the state public affairs officer, said in the statement.
The Express-News reports that gay and straight couples will be able to sign up for benefits at five National Guard facilities in Abilene, Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and the Rio Grande Valley. But the American Military Partner Association, a support network for LGBT military spouses and their families, says that isn’t good enough.
“The personnel, funding, and systems being used previously to process these enrollments were already federally funded,” said Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association. “Requiring everyone, both gay and straight couples, to travel potentially far distances away from their home units to enroll for benefits at a facility on federal property sounds more like they are making it worse for all, rather than simply complying with federal directives. This kind of an outcome is dangerous because it only only encourages animosity towards our families.”
Chris Rowzee, a spokeswoman for the AMPA, told Lone Star Q on Tuesday night that the Texas National Guard’s release is misleading and vaguely worded. But she said her group is interpreting the statement to mean that the Texas National Guard is following the lead of both Oklahoma and South Carolina, which have forced all couples to go to federally owned bases to apply for benefits.
Lone Star Q has left a message with the Texas National Guard’s public information office seeking clarification.
— John Wright