Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced earlier this month that state-owned National Guard facilities will no longer allow any married couples to apply for spousal benefits, regardless of whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex. The Supreme Court’s decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act means that servicemembers with same-sex spouses are now eligible for federal benefits. Fallin’s unusual tactic is designed to avoid having to recognize those couples, which she asserts would violate Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman:
FALLIN: Oklahoma law is clear. The state of Oklahoma does not recognize same-sex marriages, nor does it confer marriage benefits to same-sex couples. The decision reached today allows the National Guard to obey Oklahoma law without violating federal rules or policies. It protects the integrity of our state constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people.
This decision directly contradicts an order from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordering states to provide same-sex couples with the federal benefits they deserve under the law. All married couples will now have to travel to one of the five federal facilities in Oklahoma to apply for benefits. Incidentally, the state’s facilities were built almost entirely with federal funds and 90 percent of the Oklahoma Military Department — which includes the National Guard — is funded by the federal government.
Fallin’s tactic mirrors other attempts to punish an entire group to avoid serving the gay community. When marriage equality came to the District of Columbia, Catholic Charities decided to stop offering partner benefits to all employees to avoid having to provide them to any employee’s same-sex spouse. In various states, Catholic Charities has also abandoned all adoption services to avoid having to provide them to same-sex couples.
Schools have also employed this strategy to try to block gay-straight alliances from forming. In 2011, for example, Flour Bluff Independent School District in Corpus Christi, Texas considered banning all extracurricular clubs to avoid allowing a GSA to form.
Oklahoma is not alone in defying Hagel’s orders. The Texas Military Force acknowledged this week that it will not allow same-sex couples to apply for a housing allowance at state-run National Guard facilities, having already turned away at least one couple. Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia have also refused to comply, but some states that previously had balked have begun complying, like West Virginia. A total of 29 states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, but most are complying with the federal recognition for purposes of the National Guard.
Some states are also struggling in other ways with how to handle the federal government’s recognition of same-sex couples in the wake of DOMA. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) announced last week that same-sex couples could file their state taxes jointly, even though they won’t be eligible for state tax benefits. This has prompted one Missouri state lawmaker, Rep. Nick Marshall (R), to pursue impeachment proceedings against Nixon. Meanwhile, Virginia is among the states that have ordered same-sex couples to file their taxes separately.
Because all of Oklahoma’s National Guard ID-printing machines are now in place and operating on federal properties, the state is technically considered to be in compliance with federal directives. Married couples can only apply for benefits at those federal facilities, and not at any of the state-owned facilities.
Gov. Fallin has tried to distance herself from this story, using social media to say, “To set the record straight – no National Guardsman in Oklahoma is being denied marriage benefits. Stories that suggest otherwise are false.” This is technically true, but those benefits can now only be obtained at federal facilities in Oklahoma, which could require couples to drive extended distances even when there are are state facilities closer by.