After the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, the Pentagon ordered that the same-sex spouses of servicemembers be entitled to the same benefits as other spouses. Several states, however, used their own constitutional bans on same-sex marriage to justify denying such benefits to National Guard servicemembers at their state offices and facilities.
Speaking to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Thursday night, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel condemned this discrimination as “wrong” and ordered the Pentagon to take immediate action to resolve the discrepancy:
HAGEL: All spouses of service members are entitled to DoD ID cards, and the benefits that come with them. But several states today are refusing to issue these IDs to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities. Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, but 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 our ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD has fought to extinguish, as has the ADL.
Today, I directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Frank Grass, to take immediate action to remedy this situation. At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being declined and denied. 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.
The decision will affect Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia, all of which blocked National Guard same-sex spouses from access to benefits. All other states with same-sex marriage bans have complied with the Defense Department’s instructions to recognize servicemembers’ spouses.
The order comes the same day as news that earlier in October, the Coast Guard announced it was adding sexual orientation to its equal opportunity policy, prompting calls for the Defense Department to do the same. The Coast Guard operates independently from the rest of the Armed Services, reporting instead to the Department of Homeland Security. Pentagon Spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen explained that because that discrimination cases on the basis of sexual orientation are handled by the DoD’s Inspector General system, sexual orientation is not included in the Military Equal Opportunity program.