Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana have refused to allow state National Guard units to award spousal benefits to same sex partners of enlisted personnel, and Florida is considering joining the ban as well. According to McClatchy newspapers, the three deeply Republican southern states have all refused a Pentagon order to allow same sex partners to be treated equally to the partners of heterosexually married personnel.
National Guard officers in the affected states say that they are obeying the states' other anti-same sex marriage laws that are still in effect. “We’re following state law, like several other states are,” said Missippi National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Timothy Powell (ret.) to McClatchy reporter Curtis Tate.
Other states have similar laws on the books, but National Guard units there have chosen to comply with the federal order. Alaska National Guard spokesperson Lt. Bernie Kale said that the order to honor equal marriage benefits "is not in conflict with our state constitution or state laws."
In 1998, Alaska was the first state in the union to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. That amendment was voted in as a ballot initiative and has currently not been overturned in court or in the state legislature.
Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald reported that Florida is currently reviewing the Pentagon order to decide how it pertains to that state's anti-same sex marriage constitutional amendment, which was passed in 2008.
The Pentagon issued its order allowing marriage benefits for legally married employees in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) earlier this summer. DOMA was the federal statute passed in 1996 that defined marriage as only being between a man and a woman.
Even Wolfson of the rights group Freedom to Marry told McClatchy, "The military is not telling any state what the state has to do. It’s saying for federal purposes, couples who are married should be treated as what they are: married.”
LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal's constitutional litigation director Susan Sommer said that the conflicts between Pentagon policy and local law are largely in local officials' heads.
“It looks a lot more like they’re playing politics,” she said.
Col. Timothy Marsano of the Idaho National Guard said to McClatchy that his armory stands ready to serve all personnel and their partners.
“It’s going to be no problem for someone who’s legally married in another state to come to us and apply for benefits,” he said. “We’re not going to send them packing.”
The military is honoring marriages performed in states where same sex marriages are legal. So called "place of celebration" regulations are similar to those being used by the Internal Revenue Service, which announced earlier this summer that it would allow same sex married couples to file their taxes jointly.
The Pentagon and the National Guard both urged same sex partners to who are turned away at state Guard armories to instead apply for their benefits at any federal military installation in their state.
“All federal military installations will issue IDs to all those who provide a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage,” said Nate Christensen, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense.
[image of lesbian solder via Shutterstock.com]