The Texas National Guard refused to process requests from same-sex couples for benefits on Tuesday despite a Pentagon directive to do so, while Mississippi won't issue applications from state-owned offices. Both states cited their respective bans on gay marriage.
Tuesday was the first working day that gays in the military could apply for benefits after the Pentagon announced it would recognize same-sex marriages. The Department of Defense had announced it would recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Texas and Mississippi appeared to be the only two states with National Guards limiting how and where same-sex spouses of National Guard members could register for ID cards and benefits. Officials in a dozen other states that also ban gay marriage — including Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and Georgia — said Tuesday that they will follow federal law and process all couples applying for benefits the same.
Maj. Gen. John Nichols, the commanding general of Texas Military Forces, wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that because the Texas Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, his state agency couldn't process applications from gay and lesbian couples. But he said the Texas National Guard, Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guard would not deny anyone benefits.
"However, the (Texas Military Forces) 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 advised service members. He then listed 22 bases operated by the Department of Defense in Texas where service members could enroll their families.
A spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the Texas Military Forces, which oversees the state's National Guard units, was a state agency and must therefore obey state law.
Mississippi National Guard spokesman Tim Powell said the main factor in its determining where spouces could apply for benefits came down to the property owner. Mississippi also constitutionally bans gay marriage.
"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 said.
Pentagon officials said Texas appeared to be the only state with a total ban on processing applications from gay and lesbian couples. Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said federal officials will process all applications from same-sex couples with a marriage certificate from a state where it is legal.