Texas: Military Spouse Takes Extra Steps, Still Denied Benefits

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com November 20 2013 1:56 PM ET

The Texas National Guard has denied housing benefits to a legally married female service member and her wife, despite the Pentagon's directive to issue rights and benefits to all married members and their spouses.

The state's coalition of guard forces, the Texas Military Force, said Monday that all service members with same-sex partners who want housing benefits must register for them at a federal installation, as the state will not process their applications. Though the state's military command said it would not deny married same-sex couples of benefits as long as they had military identification, at least one lesbian couple has been denied those rights, according to the American Military Partner Association.

AMPA president Stephen Peters said the move was a "direct assault" on military families and the "integrity and viability of the chain of command." He said it was also an example of why LGBT service members need ensured protection through the Department of Defense. In fact, the member whose wife was denied housing benefits has chosen to remain anonymous, for fear of retaliation in her position with the National Guard.

“By refusing to treat same-gender military couples equally, the Texas Military Forces, under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, is creating a hostile climate of discrimination and has sent a strong message that Department of Defense policies and direct orders by the secretary of defense will not be followed,” he said in a statement.

The couple followed the National Guard's regulation, which the AMPA calls discriminatory and a "work-around" order, when they traveled to a federal installation to get military ID for the member's spouse, Cassaundra St. John. Once they obtained the federal identification, she was still denied housing at the "dependent rate," even though she is entitled to it as a married spouse with a military ID card.

“We want every gay National Guard member entitled to benefits to obtain those benefits,” Texas Military Forces spokeswoman Laura Lopez told The Washington Post. “We are not denying any benefits for people who are entitled to them, to include housing.”

Texas is one of the states that have implemented policies making it more difficult for National Guard service members to obtain benefits for same-sex spouses, with state officials refusing to process applications and sending couples to federal installations.

Last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asked the head of the National Guard to investigate how these states (including Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina) could obstruct gay and lesbian couples' exercise of their rights.

"Not only does this violate the states' obligation 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 in October.

Those states host a combined 114 Army and Air National Guard stations.

The states in question have cited standing bans on same-sex marriage as the basis for not processing gay and lesbian National Guard couples' benefit applications. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's governor has announced that the state will no longer accept applications from either same-sex or opposite-sex spouses at state-owned National Guard facilities, to avoid processing those from gay couples. Those applications, from now on, will only be accepted at the four federally owned facilities in Oklahoma, Tulsa World reports.