WASHINGTON (MCT) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the head of the National Guard "to take immediate action" to ensure that same-sex spouses of guard personnel in nine states - including Texas, Florida and South Carolina - are allowed to register for full benefits an receive identification cards giving them access to military bases in keeping with a Pentagon policy that went into effect in September.
Despite the new policy, National Guard commanders in those nine states, which do not permit same-sex marriages, have refused to register gay spouses at guard installations. Instead, they have required same-sex spouses to travel to federal military installations to register for benefits.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, allowing federal benefits for same-sex marriages, but some states have balked at applying that standard to their National Guard troops, citing a potential conflict between state law and Pentagon policy.
In a speech Thursday night at the 100th annual Anti-Defamation League dinner in New York City, Hagel said he had asked Gen. Frank Grass to meet with the state adjutants to resolve the dispute.
"Whether they are responding to natural disasters here at home in their states or fighting in Afghanistan, our National Guardsmen all wear the uniform of the United States of America," Hagel said in his speech, which was posted online. "They are serving this country. They - and their families - are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all of our military men and women.
"Not only does this violate the states' obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they're entitled to. This is wrong. It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which (the Defense Department) has fought to extinguish."
The Pentagon has previously said the nine states also included Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia. The Pentagon has said 114 Army and Air National Guard sites in those states that were not providing ID cards to eligible same-sex spouses.
"We did it because everyone who serves our country in uniform ... should receive the full benefits they earned, fairly and in accordance with the law," Hagel said. "Everyone's rights must be protected."
Chad Griffin, head of the Human Rights Campaign, a group that advocates on behalf of gays and lesbians, said, "Guard members and their families serve this country every day, and it is unacceptable that any state would make it unreasonably difficult for these heroes to access the benefits they are entitled to under federal law."
(Los Angeles Times staff writer Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)
(c)2013 Tribune Co.
Distributed by MCT Information Services