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Topics In the News
Discriminatory National Guards Cave on Spousal Benefits
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/14/13
Last updated on: 12/14/13
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Secretary Hagel adresses the Anti-Defamation League.

On October 31, 2013, in a sternly worded speech delivered to the Anti-Defamation League, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel revealed that nine state National Guards had refused service to gay and lesbian servicemembers and families and that he had ordered them to end their discriminatory practices immediately. The states--Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia--had refused to comply with DOD orders to provide ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities. On December 13, Hagel announced that all states are now in compliance with DOD regulations.

Following the June 26, 2013 Supreme Court ruling invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Department of Defense began providing spousal and family benefits for military members and eligible civilian employees in same-sex marriages. A crucial part of the process of accessing many of the benefits is obtaining ID cards. In an August 15 communication the DOD notified the state National Guard units that they were to begin issuing ID cards to same-sex spouses beginning September 3, 2013.

However, citing state constitutional provisions or statutes banning the recognition of same-sex marriage, the National Guard units of nine states refused to issue the ID cards at state facilities. Instead, they required service members or eligible employees to travel to federal facilities to obtain the ID cards.

In his remarks at the 100th annual Anti-Defamation League in New York on October 31, Hagel said that "the adjutants general [of the nine states not in compliance] will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and Defense Department policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions."

He explained that the benefits are offered "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."

Hagel added that he had directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Frank Grass, to take immediate action to remedy this situation.

In his remarks in New York, Hagel explained that the denial of ID cards at National Guard facilities unnecessarily forces couples to travel to federal facilities. "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," he said. "This is wrong. It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DOD has fought to extinguish."

On December 13, Secretary Hagel announced that all the states are now in compliance. In all jurisdictions, gay and lesbian servicemembers and their families now have equal access to benefits.

As Jennifer Steinauer notes in the New York Times, the Department of Defense has overridden the objections of the states who had resisted equal rights for servicemembers and their families.

The six weeks of negotiation resulted in agreements that allowed the most recalcitrant states, those most intent on harming gay and lesbian families, a figleaf to cover their abject surrender and to save face after weeks of bluster and defiance.

For example, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas are placing the identification card machine operators on their National Guard bases on a temporary federal status to issue ID cards and enroll same-sex spouses in the Dependent Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS.

Florida, Oklahoma, and South Carolina moved the National Guard ID card machines to facilities on federal installations. This practice will inconvenience all service members and their families, but at least the inconvenience will be felt equally. The governors of these states dislike the gay and lesbian soldiers that protect them so much that they are willing to also inconvenience straight soldiers and their families.

Indiana and West Virginia simply dropped their opposition and began processing ID cards and DEERS enrollments at all guard facilities.

Following Hagel's announcement, Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, said, "We applaud the administration and Secretary Hagel for seeing this issue through and ensuring all state National Guards are compliant." However, Peters added, many state governments still discriminate against gay military families in other ways.

Congratulations to Secretary Hagel for insisting that gay and lesbian servicemembers and their families be treated fairly.

In the video below, the incomparable Rachel Maddow reports on Hagel's order and places it in historical context.

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