After National Guard units in at least four states cited state prohibitions on recognizing same-sex marriages as justification for denying spousal benefits to married gay and lesbian National Guard soldiers, Congressional Democrats turned up the heat on the Pentagon, demanding the Department of Defense enforce its own mandate to extend spousal benefits to all legally married gay and lesbian service members.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman and ranking member of the Congressional Armed Services Committees, respectively, penned a letter to the Department of Defense on September 30 "to express [their] deep concern over the unwillingness of the National Guards of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma to support applications for military benefits for same-sex spouses of military members," reports the Washington Blade.
Those four states have each refused to issue military ID cards to the same-sex spouses of married service members, citing statewide bans on marriage equality or recognizing a same-sex marriage. National Guard officials have told service members that they must travel to federal facilities to access the benefits promised to all service members in same-sex marriages, despite the DoD confirming that housing, health care, and other benefits for same-sex spouses of married service members are to be universally available beginning September 3. The regulatory change was announced in August, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling striking down a key section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited all federal agencies from recognizing any marriage that was not comprised of one man and one woman.
"We urge you to issue further guidance on this matter," continues the letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, "reaffirming that all marry military couples must be treated equally, and clarifying that state National Guards, because they are funded in large part by federal tax dollars, cannot choose to ignore this order by denying some lawfully married military couples equal access to the federal benefits to which they are entitled."
In South Carolina, which also has a statewide ban on the recognition of same-sex marriages, commanding officers have directed all military benefits processing to federal facilities in the state, so as not to run afoul of the state law. South Carolina State Adjutant General Robert Livingston filmed a brief video explaining the change, noting that South Carolina's National Guard serves as a federal reserve for the Army and Air Force, as well as the military department for the state of South Carolina, and therefore is governed by both federal and state law, which are at odds in this case.
"We want to make sure that all of our soldiers and airmen and their families get the federal benefits they deserve," said Livingston in the film. "We also need to make sure that we do not violate state law — and the state does not allow us to recognize same-sex unions. So the way that we are making sure that we are in compliance with state law, while making sure that our troops get the benefits that they have earned, is that we have moved our ID facilities for families to federal facilities that are used by the state guard, and we are using federal employees, which is about 98% of our workforce, to do those ID cards."
Watch Livingston's comments below.