Texas is refusing to grant some gay troops benefits for their spouses, even though the Defense Department announced all legally married troops, gay or straight, could get those benefits starting September 3. Texas Military Forces — which includes the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and State National Guard — is not accepting benefits applications from gay troops because the state constitution bans gay marriage. In a memo dated August 30 — as in, the last business day before couples were eligible to enroll on Monday — TXMF announced that it was unable to enroll gay spouses due to the discrepancy between state and federal law.
Maj. Gen. John Nichols, the commanding general of TXMF, said the forces are "a state agency under the authority and direction of the Texas state government" and, since same-sex marriage is illegal in Texas, "due to the potential conflict [between state and federal law], we are unable to enroll same-sex families ... at our state-supported facilities until we receive legal clarification."
But TXMF isn't waging total culture war against gay marriage. Gay troops in Texas still can get benefits, they just have to enroll on federal property, instead of state property. Instead of going to her local National Guard office, a lesbian trooper can go to, say, Fort Bliss to enroll her wife in health care and other military benefits.
And that's what TXMF is encouraging. "This is a processing issue, not a denial of benefits issue," the agency said in a statement on Tuesday. "As such, we fully encourage eligible members to enroll for their federal benefits at one of the 20 nearest federal installations, which are dispersed throughout the state of Texas." One guard member in Austin said she was directed to Fort Hood, nearly 90 miles away.
The Mississippi National Guard is also preventing its members from signing their spouses up for benefits at state facilities. Tim Powell, a Mississippi National Guard spokesman, told The Washington Post that applications for benefits would only be accepted by National Guard offices on federal property. "It is our intent to provide benefits and services to our men and women in uniform and at the same time abide by federal and state statutes," Powell told the Post.
Meanwhile, National Guard offices in other states that ban gay marriage, including Michigan, Oklahoma and Florida, have said they will follow federal law and allow gay guard members to enroll their spouses for benefits, as long as they have valid marriage certificates issued in states where gay marriage is legal. "As long as the soldier presents that marriage certificate or license, then we would treat that claim just like we would any other soldier that brings in a marriage license or certificate," said Oklahoma National Guard spokesman Col. Max Moss.