In the latest of a string of incidents illustrating the tension between state and federal law, Texas and Mississippi are ignoring the Pentagon's directive to provide same-sex couples with military benefits.
In Texas, the State Guard is flat-out refusing to process applications for benefits from same-sex couples, in stark opposition to the Pentagon's Aug. 14 announcement. And in Mississippi, state-run offices refuse to issue applications to same-sex couples. Both states are defending themselves by citing their bans against same-sex marriage, which 37 states in America continue to outlaw.
Monday marked the first week that married same-sex couples could officially apply for, and claim, the same military benefits as heterosexual spouses. Because Monday was Labor Day, it all kicked off Tuesday — and the two state's opposition to the ruling came into the spotlight. They seem to be the only states to act in stark opposition to the Pentagon's directive; at least 13 other states that also ban same-sex marriage, including Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and Georgia, said Tuesday that they intend to uphold the Pentagon's ruling, which they understand as federal law.
The tension between state and federal law, and the right for states to uphold their own policies, has been subject to debate of late. In Colorado and Washington (the two states that have legalized recreational marijuana use) police officials have expressed fear that they will be in violation of federal law — which bans recreational marijuana use and possession of the drug — if they allow state citizens to own and use it. The Feds responded last month by saying that the Justice Department will not charge them.
Now, Texas governor Rick Perry said that Texas agencies would be in violation of state laws if it processed the marriage applications. Mississippi was a little more lenient, with its National Guard spokesman saying that the decision came down to whoever owned the property where applications were filed. In other words, couples could go from base to base, hoping to find a place to receive applications. Texas, by contrast, has enforced an out-and-out ban.
When state and federal laws go head-to-head in court, the outcome is usually clear: the Constitution requires federal law to be superior. In other words, state laws can be upheld unless charges are filed — and then, in a legal setting, those representing federal law will succeed. So, if a same-sex couple in Mississippi were to file legal charges against their state in federal court, then, hypothetically, they would likely win and establish a precedent that would stop the state from enforcing their own law in these circumstances.
Said the wife of a war veteran who was turned away in Austin: "It's so petty. It's not like it's going to stop us from registering or stop us from marrying. It's a pointed way of saying, 'We don't like you.'"
And from the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for gay rights for military couples:
It's truly outrageous that the State of Texas has decided to play politics with our military families. Our military families are already dealing with enough problems and the last thing they need is more discrimination from the state of Texas.
Over in California, it was announced today that gay inmates will be allowed to marry their partners, even if one is behind bars — a right that, until now, was reserved only for heterosexual couples.