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Texas National Guard Denies Benefits for Same-Sex Partners

by: Shelby Alexander

Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 10:14 AM CDT

While thousands of military members with same-sex spouses across the country began claiming benefits for their partners earlier this week, the Texas National Guard decided they would limit this access to their hard-working service members and their families. The Department of Defense announced that it would recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal, following the US Supreme Court's decision to throw out certain parts of the Defense of Marriage Act. However, the Texas National Guard claimed that state law applied to this measure because Texas Military Forces is a state agency, and since Texas bans same-sex marriage, they needed to follow state law.

Mississippi was the only other state to take similar action (While the other thirty-three states who have banned same-sex marriage have yet to do anything similar).

Read more below the jump

The Texas Military Forces wrote in a memo that because the Texas Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, they were unable to process application from same-sex couples- but reiterated that the Texas National Guard, Texas Air Guard, and the Texas State Guard would not be denying benefits.

Maj. Gen. John Nichols, the commanding general of Texas Military Forces, wrote in his letter to service members that the Texas National Guard  "remains committed to ensuring its military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled. As such, we encourage anyone affected by this issue to enroll for benefits at a federal installation." He then provided 22 bases operated by the Department of Defense in Texas which he stated Texas service members could enroll their families. Once a spouse is approved an obtains an ID, they would then be able to go to any base for services.

Unfortunately, this decision to choose to apply state law over federal law only hurts families who deserve these benefits, like Alicia Butler, who married her Iraq veteran spouse in California who was turned away from the Texas Military Forces headquarters in Austin. She was told to get an ID card at Fort Hood (about 90 miles away).

"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," Butler said.

This go-around places an additional burden on military families, who are forced to literally go the extra mile in many cases just to receive the basic benefits service members have dutifully earned.

"As a state agency, Texas Military Forces must adhere with Texas law, and the Texas Constitution, which clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman," said Josh Havens, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry's office.

The adjutant general's office has requested that the attorney general to sort out this situation. In their request for a legal opinion, they state that "Texas law specifically prohibits a state agency or political subdivision from recognizing or validating a same-sex marriage. But the national guard personnel are under state control only until they are called up for active duty, and then they answer to the federal government."

Despite there being obvious precedent by the federal government, our state leaders are disregarding it for their own political gain. As the Attorney General's office prepares their response, it's obvious it will be used as another reason for Abbott to grandstand on another opportunity to attack LGBTQ families. He's already done so in his efforts to tell cities and school districts that they cannot extend health coverage to domestic partners (if the policy defines their relationship as similar to a marriage).

It seems Abbott will have his hands full for this early campaign season on hurting LGBTQ Texans, having also threatening intervention on San Antonio's nondiscrimination ordinance as well. In this recent attack on the LGBTQ community by the right wing, it's clear that Abbott and Governor Perry have no concern with treating some of our military families as second-class citizens.

The Attorney General's office generally has 45 days to answer the request for an opinion.

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