Hagel prompts action on same-sex benefits for National Guard members

November 1, 2013

At least one state has reversed its decision not to immediately issue military ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took action this week to address the controversial issue.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque).
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Pentagon chief issued a directive in August ordering the military to treat all legally married couples equally in compliance with the June Supreme Court decision overturning restrictions on federal benefits for gay couples.

But nine states refused to meet the requirement, citing conflicts with their state constitutions.

National Guard is new gay-rights battleground

Hagel on Wednesday directed the head of the National Guard Bureau to meet with the adjutants general of the noncompliant states to resolve the issue. The Indiana National Guard has said it agreed to issue ID cards to same-sex spouses, explaining in a news release that it had simply delayed the move while conferring with the state’s attorney general.

“The decision was never made to not process benefits, rather the decision was delayed in order to fully understand the impacts while service members serve in different pay categories,”said Lt. Col. Cathleen Van Bree, a spokeswoman for the Indiana National Guard.

Defense Department ID cards serve as the linchpin for military benefits and privileges. Without them, military spouses cannot shop at base commissaries or visit the medical facilities where they are entitled to care, for instance.

The non-compliant states have advised gay military spouses to seek ID cards at federal rather than state military facilities.

Hagel said during a speech at an Anti-Defamation League dinner that those states were violating their obligation under federal law, adding that “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.”

“This is wrong,” the secretary added. “It causes division among our ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DOD has fought to extinguish.”

National Guard units have a unique status, falling under the authority of their respective states and the federal government.

The eight states that have still not complied with Hagel’s order are Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

Other states that prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage have said they will provide IDs to gay military spouses. They include Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia.

The Pentagon has insisted that its position is legally sound, but the agency has not specified how it will deal with states that refuse to comply with Hagel’s order once Gen. Frank Grass, the National Guard Bureau chief, meets with their adjutants general.

“These are federal ID cards paid for with federal funding to provide federally mandated benefits,” said a defense official who asked to speak anonymously to discuss the matter. “The secretary has directed General Grass to resolve this issue with the [adjutants general]. We’re not going to speculate on legal options at this time.”

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks | November 1, 2013