States Ban Gay Couples' Military Benefits: What the Pentagon Will Do

In a speech on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that he has ordered the chief of the National Guard Bureau to "take immediate action" against states that refuse to comply with new policies to protect the same-sex spouses of soldiers. The sticking point is military identity cards, which the nine protesting states refuse to issue to the spouses of gay National Guard soldiers.

Of course, the Supreme Court struck down Don't Ask, Don't Tell in June, and the military began issuing benefits to same-sex couples a few months later. But some states have nevertheless refused to comply — Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia — and cite a conflict between the federal law and state laws forbidding gay marriage. Addressing the claims, Hagel said:

Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, 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. It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD has fought to extinguish.

Texas was the first state to refuse to issue the IDs, announcing this summer that it would not give the IDs to same-sex military spouses at National Guard locations, sending them instead to federal facilities (which are in some cases hours away) due to a "potential conflict" between federal and state laws. It wasn't long before the other eight states joined in. So far, 114 National Guard sites are refusing to issue IDs to same-sex military spouses.Hagel has sent General Frank Grass, who heads the National Guard bureau, to meet with the Adjutants General for all nine of the protesting states. After the meetings, he said, "the Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions." Hagel is also reportedly "prepared to take further action" should the states continue to refuse to comply with federal law.Only one of the states in question, South Carolina, has so far changed its rules. But instead of making things easier for same-sex couples, its government is making the process harder for everyone: now all the state's National Guard service members are required to get their IDs at a federal facility.Image: Flickr/California National Guard