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Texas: Same-sex spouses can't enroll for benefits at state Guard facilities

Sep. 3, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Members of the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard participate in a ceremony on the floor of the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. The Texas National Guard is refusing to process requests for benefits submitted by same-sex couples because of state law.
Members of the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard participate in a ceremony on the floor of the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. The Texas National Guard is refusing to process requests for benefits submitted by same-sex couples because of state law. (Tamir Kalifa / The (Austin) Daily Texan via AP, fi)
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Same-sex spouses in Texas are not being allowed to enroll for military benefits in state-supported Guard facilities, at least for now, because Defense Department policy may conflict with Texas law, which doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, according to the state’s adjutant general.

Spouses in Texas and elsewhere are able to enroll for these benefits at federal facilities.

In an Aug. 30 memo, Texas Adjutant General John Nichols said until legal clarification is provided, officials are unable to enroll same-sex families for benefits at state-supported facilities.

“It is important to note, this is not a denial of benefits, but rather a processing issue that is currently awaiting legal clarification from the Texas State Attorney General’s Office,” said Laura Lopez, a spokeswoman for Texas Military Forces. She said Texas Military Forces officials have been working closely with the governor’s office and attorney general’s office for the past few weeks on the issue.

There are five state-supported Guard facilities and 20 federal installations in Texas, Lopez said.

Under a Texas state law that took effect Sept. 1, 2003, “a marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union is contrary to the public policy of this state and is void in this state.” The law also prohibits any right or claim to any legal protection, benefit or responsibility as a result of a same-sex marriage or civil union.

Thus, Texas Military Forces — The Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Air National Guard, the Texas State Guard and the Domestic Operations Command — must consider that the Texas Constitution and the Texas law “conflicts with the DoD policy extending benefits to same-sex spouses,” wrote Nichols, a major general in the Texas Air National Guard.

Personnel at state-supported facilities are not currently allowed to provide any benefits to same-sex spouses, Lopez said.

“It’s truly outrageous that the state of Texas has decided to play politics with our military families,” said Stephen Peters, the president of American Military Partner Association, in a statement. “Governor Rick Perry should be ashamed. Our military families are already dealing with enough problems and the last thing they need is more discrimination from the state of Texas.”

Nichols noted that “TXMF remains committed to ensuring its military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled. As such, we encourage anyone affected by this issue to enroll for benefits at a federal installation.”

“All federal military installations in Texas will issue IDs to all those who provide a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage,” said DoD spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.

As of Sept. 3, spousal and family benefits, including ID cards, are available at DoD ID facilities to same-sex spouses, including retiree spouses, with a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage. The benefits are the same as those available to heterosexual spouses, ranging from medical care to housing allowances, and including access to commissaries, exchanges, and morale, welfare and recreation programs.

Currently 13 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

In addition, same-sex couples who were married as of June 26 — the date the Supreme Court ruled to overturn parts of the Defense of Marriage Act — will receive some retroactive benefits. For example, housing allowances, qualifying medical expenses incurred since June 26 and expenses incurred by the spouse during a permanent change of station move since June 26 will be reimbursed, according to DoD spokesman Christensen. For spouses married since then, benefits are retroactive to the date of the marriage.

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