Military Benefits For Same-Sex Couples Blocked At State Level
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has paved the way for military members and their same-sex spouses to receive the same military benefits as married heterosexual couples.
A new Pentagon order officially extended full marriage benefits to all military couples, regardless of sexual orientation.
According to the Washington Times, the Pentagon already had planned to begin issuing military ID cards to the same-sex partners of military personnel, starting Sept. 1. Issuing the cards will take between six to 12 weeks, officials said on Wednesday.
The cards will extend benefits such as access to counseling and low-price commissaries, medical and dental care, housing and transportation allowances, survivor benefits and other bonuses that had previously only been granted only to straight couples.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has come out in support of the decision and says that the Pentagon will move toward implementation immediately.
“Today’s ruling helps ensure that all men and women who serve this country can be treated fairly and equally, with the full dignity and respect they so richly deserve,” said Hagel.
The distribution of these awards, however, is a major point of contention at the state level. The issue of state’s rights versus federal authority has long been a sore spot in our country's history, and now as Tea Party-controlled states virulently attack any trace of Obama and the feds, the age-old debate has reached a fever pitch.
About a half-dozen states are attempting to block gay couples from taking advantage of these benefits by banning state-controlled National Guard facilities from processing benefits requests. These states are getting away with denying benefits because unless it is federalized by the President, the National Guard is under the command of the state legislature.
In Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin has ordered state National Guard facilities to stop processing spousal benefits—effectively shutting down the whole process for all couples. The Governor insists that this isn’t about personally discriminating against gays, instead citing a 2004 ballot initiative that denied all marriage benefits to gay couples and affirmed that only a union between a man and a woman can be considered a marriage.
The DOD is moving forward, however, and has approved a policy allowing National Guard members to register for benefits at federal facilities in Texas and other states to work around unwilling state governments.
Couples in Oklahoma have taken advantage of the DOD policy and have traveled to one of the four federally operated National Guard facilities to apply for spousal benefits. Other states actively fighting military marriage benefits for gay couples includes Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana.
The friction between the state and federal government has also caused an uncomfortable situation for military chaplains. The Southern Baptist Church and the Roman Catholic Church have asked chaplains not to carry out same-sex weddings or risk their endorsement being revoked by the state.
Some chaplains have already been punished for participating in same-sex weddings, losing endorsements as a result.
As the United States continues to move toward equality, there will be some who wish to impede it’s progression. But the simple fact remains: a majority of the country now supports gay marriage. Even in the overwhelmingly conservative state of South Carolina, only 52% of residents still oppose gay marriage; this signals a huge shift in public opinion and momentum.
As the 2016 presidential election nears, it will be interesting to see how the Republican party’s stance on gay rights evolves and whether any of the candidates will take a moderate stance on the issue.
As the country moves toward equality, pressure for the Republican Party to support gay rights will continue to increase, if they hope to win a national presidential election.
Contact Staff Reporter Ryan Shaw here.