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Topics In the News
 
Hagel Orders National Guards to End Discriminatory Practices
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/01/13
Last updated on: 11/01/13
 
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Secretary Chuck Hagel.

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

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.

As the American Forces Press Service reports, 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 said, "Today, I directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Frank Grass, to take immediate action to remedy this situation.

A senior offical said that Secretary Hagel expects the nine noncompliant states to resolve this issue, and added, "He is prepared to take further action should the states not come into compliance with DOD policy."

In his remarks in New York, Hagel said 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."

The secretary emphasized that members of the National Guard serve their states and the nation and deserve to be treated accordingly.

"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," he said. "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."

Hagel's speech is available here.

On the Human Rights Campaign blog, HRC president Chad Griffin hailed Secretary Hagel's action. "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," Griffin said. "Secretary Hagel has seen military families turned away for no good reason, and he has ordered it to stop immediately. There's no clearer example of leadership than that."

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

 
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