The Texas National Guard announced Tuesday that it will allow same-sex spouses to apply for military benefits at its state facilities under a new agreement with the Pentagon, reversing its previous policy of requiring gay couples to enroll at federal facilities.
The Defense Department will provide federal personnel, funding and equipment to enroll the spouses, ensuring that no Texas National Guard members in state status will have to do the work.
Texas officials had previously said that the state’s National Guard could not process benefits for gay couples because Texas’s Constitution prohibits recognition of same-sex marriage. Several other states followed suit, telling same-sex spouses that they would have to apply at federal installations.
“We look forward to having the ability to process the benefits our service members and their families are entitled to,” Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a Texas National Guard spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Alicia Butler, whose wife, Judith Chedville, is a member of the Texas National Guard and served in Iraq in 2003, said she successfully applied for military spousal benefits Wednesday at Camp Mabry in Austin.
“We were just delighted,” Butler said. “It was very exciting. I think having the Department of Defense step up and say they’re expecting everyone to comply was a real critical part of this.”
In August, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military to provide equal benefits for same-sex spouses after the Supreme Court overturned a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act. The agreement with Texas came one month after Hagel directed the head of the National Guard Bureau to work with the hold-out states to achieve full compliance.
Maj. Jonathan Wesley, a National Guard Bureau spokesman, said Wednesday that only Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi had not conformed with the Pentagon policy. He added that the bureau is continuing to work with state officials and “expects 100 percent compliance in the near future.”
Gen. Frank Grass, who heads the National Guard Bureau, is due to update Hagel on the agency’s progress toward the goal by Dec. 1, Wesley said.
Several states that do not recognize gay marriage have recently made changes to comply with the Pentagon’s equality policy. South Carolina, for instance, eliminated initial benefits enrollments at state National Guard facilities and now requires all spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, to apply at federal installations.
The National Guard Bureau allowed Texas to temporarily place some of its National Guard members in a federal status in order to help process benefits for same-sex spouses.
“We don’t plan to use any additional federal funds to implement this option,” said bureau spokesman Jon Anderson.
Gay rights groups have applauded the deal between Texas and the Pentagon.
“All military spouses, regardless of orientation or gender, deserve to be treated with the same dignity, respect and support for their sacrifices in support of our nation, no matter what state they serve in,” said Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association. “We urge the remaining states who have not yet complied with the Department of Defense policy to do so quickly.”
Some states with gay-marriage prohibitions offered virtually no resistance to the Pentagon policy, saying soon after the announcement was made that they would process benefits for all military spouses. They included Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia.