After petulantly refusing to do so for weeks, the Texas National Guard announced late Tuesday that it will provide benefits to same-sex military spouses after all. The state reached an agreement with the Pentagon wherein federal officials will process the marriage benefits for same-sex couples within the state, using federal equipment and funding. Presumably, Texas officials can therefore avoid seeing, touching, or being in the same room with gay couples, and thus avoid contracting gay cooties.
After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act over the summer, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the National Guard to treat all married couples equally, regardless of gender. This meant providing benefits to same-sex spouses of National Guard members, yet Texas, along with five other states, refused to do, citing state law that forbid recognition of gay marriage.
Hagel subsequently ordered Texas to go ahead and provide the benefits anyway, prompting Major General John Nichols to ask Attorney General Greg Abbott for a legal opinion on the matter. Abbott, who’s also running for governor, ignored the request and didn’t issue an opinion, so Nichols ordered all units not to process any applications by same-sex couples.
Under the arrangement reached Tuesday, the federal government will provide the facilities, equipment, funding, and personnel needed to process the applications by same-sex couples. While this suggests that the Texas National Guard still possesses an “eww, don’t make us deal with the gays!” mentality, the end result is nevertheless something for proponents of marriage equality to celebrate. But while same-sex military couples in Texas will now be eligible for benefits after all, the deal also means that they may have to drive longer distances to federal facilities in order to apply for the benefits.
One ironic aspect of this whole story is that Hagel, who issued the pro-LGBT directive and has aggressively pursued its implementation, was once an enemy of marriage and gender equality. When serving in the Senate, he consistently opposed LGBT rights, and his nomination as Defense Secretary was strongly opposed by LGBT groups. Either he changed his mind somewhere along the line, or Hagel simply sees it as his duty to enforce the law.
Texas’s childish intransigence notwithstanding, five states that also forbid same-sex marriage have nevertheless agreed to provide benefits to gay military couples: Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia.