All states are now processing benefits for same-sex National Guard spouses after several holdouts found ways to implement the policy without violating their constitutional bans on the recognition of gay marriage.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an announcement Friday that same-sex spouses in every state can now obtain the military ID cards required to receive benefits for wives and husbands of service members.
“All of [the Department of Defense] 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,” Hagel said.
A handful of states, including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia, refused to process ID applications for gay spouses after the Pentagon issued a directive requiring the military to treat all legally married couples equally for purposes of federal benefits. The states told same-sex couples they could only apply at federal installations, though heterosexual spouses could submit their paperwork at state facilities.
Hagel directed the chief of the National Guard Bureau in late October to work with state officials to reach compliance with the Defense Department’s new policy. The policy came in response to a landmark Supreme Court decision in June overturning a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act.
Slowly, the holdout states and the National Guard Bureau found workarounds to ensure equal treatment of service members without allowing their employees to process same-sex benefits.
South Carolina required all National Guard spouses to apply at federal installations regardless of their sexual orientation, eliminating the possibility of unequal treatment at state facilities. In Texas and other states, the bureau agreed to switch some service members to federal status so they could process the benefits without violating state law.
Some states with gay-marriage prohibitions complied with the Defense Department policy right away, saying they could process ID applications for gay spouses without violating their constitutions. They included Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia.
The American Military Partners Association, which advocates for gay rights, commended the Pentagon on Friday.
But the group’s president, Stephen Peters, said in a statement that same-sex couples still face other forms of “discrimination and exclusion by state governments,” particularly those that don’t recognize gay marriage.