National Guard Members in Four States Still Fighting for Benefits
Photos via The American Military Partner Association
In what is turning into a Fed vs state battle, four states have challenged federal mandates for National Guard member’s same-sex partners to receive the myriad of benefits promised to heterosexual couples.
Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi have all taken steps fight the benefits. The National Guard exists in a complicated mix of state and federal influence. The GN exists under the authority of their particular states but it’s the federal government who provides most of their funding. But these states, who all have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, say the federal laws conflicts with their individual state laws.
The Pentagon Rule, which was adopted on Aug. 13, requires the military to treat their married couples equally by extending federal benefits to all couples, including same-sex spouses.
John Aughenbaugh is a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who says these states’ actions are in violation of the Obama administration’s rule put into place after the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional.
“The states who are refusing to provide the benefits claim that federalism protects them from complying with a federal government decision that violates their laws and historically marriage has been an activity that has been regulated by state governments,” Aughenbaugh said.
But these four states currently stand alone in their refusal to provide benefits – even other states that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman have fallen in line with the rule. Virginia is among Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina which have given their service members the benefits they’re entitled to.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Military Partner Association (AMPA) began a petition the Pentagon last week asking them to take action against the states’ “needless, discriminatory roadblocks,” which are preventing legally entitled relationships the benefits they deserve.
“Imagine if your husband is risking his life for his country fighting overseas, but your home state says that if something happens to him, you won’t be entitled to equal access to health and death benefits. That’s happening,” reads the petition sent to the Pentagon. “American service members risk their lives every day to protect liberty and equality all over the world. It’s time to show them the same basic fairness when it comes to protecting their own families.”
The American Military Partner Association’s (AMPA) mission is “Connecting, supporting, honoring, and serving the partners and spouses of America’s LGBT service members and veterans – our nation’s modern military families.” They hope more attention will be raised on this issue so all military families can be protected.
Chris Rowzee is spokesperson on National Guard affairs for The AMPA. A veteran and a military spouse, Rowzee said she was able to obtain her military dependent ID card because Kentucky complies with the law and even though the state doesn’t recognize her same-sex marriage.
“Right now part of the problem is that there is a misconception that all that’s happening is that these four states are telling their gay members ‘Oh , just travel to a federal installation and get your ID card. We’re not denying you any benefits you just have to go get your ID card somewhere else.’ And that’s not necessarily true,” Rowzee said.
“The rational that they’re using to make these troops go to a federal base to enroll and get their federal ID card, that rational could be applied to any number of other benefits, entitlements and situations that go way beyond just enrolling the person for benefits and giving them an ID card.”
Alicia Butler is married to Judith Chedville, a member of the Texas National Guard who served in Iraq, and Butler says she sees this matter being the role of politics.
“Points are being scored by standing up to the federal government or by going against gays,” Butler told The Washington Post. “It’s really just a cheap shot.”
The couple has been married since 2008 but the ruling on DOMA in June made them excited for the benefits they thought they would begin to have.
“It was nothing as far as Texas was concerned,” Butler said about taking their marriage license to do the necessary paperwork to receive her benefits.
Butler and Chedville have decided to take legal action against the state for their refusal to enroll same-sex spouses their federal benefits. They are being represented by Lambda Legal whose serves to attain the full recognition of the civil rights for the LGBT community.
In a letter sent from their lawyer to John F. Nichols, a Major General in the National Guard and the Adjutant General of Texas, they state amongst the “governing philosophy for the Texas Military Forces, the top priority guiding leadership policies is to ‘act in the best interests of our troops and families.’”
“The Texas Military Forces’ decision to slam the door on same-sex spouses of its service members is contrary to this guiding philosophy and fails its troops and their families,” the letter states. “Therefore, we respectfully request that your agency reconsider its position and that you instruct your staff to abide by the directive and policies of the DoD by enrolling eligible same-sex spouses of service members so they may receive the federal benefits to which they are entitled.”
Rowzee called the way these four states are handling the conflict “political football,” with the lives of our military members.
“For starters I think the political leaders in those four states are trying to score political points, and they’re trying to do it at the expense of our military families and to me that’s unconscionable” Rowzee said.
“It becomes a military readiness issue when your troops in the field can’t focus on their life and death mission at hand because they can’t be rest assured that their military families are being treated correctly back home and are being taken care of back home,” Rowzee said.
Aughenbaugh says there are several potential Obama administration responses: “The Obama administration could take these states to court by arguing these states’ refusal goes against the court ruling of DOMA and violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, they could take away the federal government funding for the Guard units in the non-complying states (however, Congress could always order the Obama admin to stop such non-funding), or the Obama administration could not challenge these states on the matter, as currently the admin has very little political capital to engage in such a fight.”
Rowzee says AMPA would like to see all military members treated equally and with the respect they deserve.
“The Supreme Court has already weighed in and said that it is discriminatory to deny federal benefits to someone because of their sexual orientation; that is the law of the land,” Rowzee said. “And we want these states to recognize that it is wrong to treat these military members in a discriminatory manner. We basically want them to comply with the DOD directive.”
“I think that if the public really came to understand what it was they were talking about doing to our military families,” said Rowzee. “I just can’t believe that the American people believe that it is right to treat our military families the way they are treating them right now.”
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