By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com December 13 2013 1:57 PM ET
The National Guard organizations in all 50 states are now compliant with the Department of Defense's directive to extend benefits to all service members' legal spouses.
All gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in any state-run National Guard can now obtain military identification cards for their husbands or wives, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement Friday. Hagel ordered the chiefs of each National Guard Bureau to provide IDs for husbands and wives of gay and lesbian troops in October.
"Following consultations between the National Guard Bureau and the adjutants general of the states, all eligible service members, dependents and retirees — including same-sex spouses — are now able to obtain ID cards in every state," he said in a statement today. "All military spouses and families sacrifice on behalf of our country. They deserve our respect and the benefits they are entitled to under the law. All of DoD is committed to pursuing equal opportunities for all who serve this nation, and I will continue to work to ensure our men and women in uniform as well as their families have full and equal access to the benefits they deserve."
After part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court over the summer, most state-run National Guard organizations were required to mirror the federal military's policies to extend benefits to all legal spouses, regardless of gender. However, guard organizations in a handful of states, including Louisiana, Florida, and Texas, claimed that they could not extend such benefits because of laws barring the recognition of same-sex marriages. To get around the contradictory state and federal policies, several states have had federal employees process same-sex spousal benefit claims for service members at federal, rather than state employees processing the requests at state-run facilities.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Military Partner Association were both integral to initiating such a change.
“This is a welcome announcement, and one that Secretary Hagel deserves credit for making happen," Ian Thompson, ACLU legislative representative, said in a statement made available to The Advocate. "The resistance on the part of some governors on extending these benefits to same-sex couples was a grossly unfair violation of federal law that turned the promise of equal treatment for all military personnel on its head. The ACLU is pleased to have partnered with the American Military Partner Association on a national petition urging the Department of Defense to ensure that same-sex military couples could not be denied equal access to the federal benefits to which they were entitled.”
Stephen Peters, president of AMPA, also heralded the change but said there are still hurdles to overcome for LGBT families in the military.
"Our military families serving in non-marriage equality states still face discouraging challenges because of the discrimination and exclusion by state governments," he said Friday morning. "We look forward to the day when our military families are treated equally in all 50 states of our nation."