Texas National Guard to Offer Benefits to Same-Sex Couples

Directly from the San Antonio Express-News

The Texas National Guard said late Tuesday it will immediately let same-sex couples register for benefits, ending a highly publicized standoff with the Pentagon.

Five Texas Guard facilities that had been off-limits for same-sex couples seeking benefits will begin to enroll same-sex dependent spouses in available programs.

“We’re going to go back to business as usual,” said Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a Texas Guard spokeswoman. “It will be full service.”

The decision means same-sex couples in the Guard now can obtain a variety of services ranging from access to base commissaries to medical care and housing allowances — all benefits granted to married heterosexual couples.

The deal with the Pentagon leaves just two states — Georgia and Louisiana — continuing to hold out against an order issued by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

He told the Anti-Defamation League in New York a month ago that Guard organizations around the country would be required to provide benefits to same-sex couples.

The flap pitted Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Georgia and a few other states against the Pentagon, which last summer said it would provide benefits to same-sex couples in the military.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual troops have been able to serve openly since Congress did away with the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law two years ago.

The Defense Department last summer said it would issue benefits to same-sex spouses of military members as well as civilian workers after the Supreme Court ruled part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

Gov. Rick Perry defied the Pentagon, saying Texas defines marriage as between a man and a woman. But Hagel made it clear in his Oct. 31 speech that the Defense Department expected all 54 Guard organizations to comply with his order.

Texas cited its state constitution and Family Code in refusing Hagel’s demands.

It told same-sex couples to file their paperwork at more than 20 active-duty installations around the state, and refused to let them to apply for benefits at Guard facilities in Abilene, Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and the Rio Grande Valley.

Those facilities will handle the paperwork, including marriages certificates, starting Wednesday, said MacGregor, the Guard spokeswoman.

There are different ways of evaluating this decision for the state of Texas. Obviously, if you take it at face value, it is a definite win for service members with same-sex spouses, because it improves the quality of their lives by allowing them the same benefits that their colleagues already enjoy. That’s of course the most important aspect of this decision.

But more broadly, this is a not insignificant blow to the Perry Administration, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, and the right-leaning legislature. It means that within the state of Texas, a major government entity is now recognizing same-sex couples by legal basis. Unlike municipalities such as Houston or San Antonio, The Texas National Guard is an agency that touches every community in the state. Are there a huge number of same-sex couples in the Texas National Guard? Probably not. But for the few that are, this is going to be a very visible change that will take place across the state, and one that is no longer limited to urban centers with a Democratic majority.

At the same time, Abbott and Perry face great difficulty in fighting this decision. Sure they can make vigorous statements saying that they will continue to fight and try to ignore any signs of progress in the state, but that’s about it. If they were to try and impede these soldiers further, it’s going to draw more attention to the state, and the inequalities that GLBT Texans have to endure. Nothing good could come of this for Greg Abbott’s (or any other anti-GLBT Republican’s) political future. It is however something Texas Democrats need to cease upon as fast as possible. They should applaud the decision, and say that these cases are about fairness.

Going forward, this will prove to be a major blow to the state’s version of DOMA. It proves that on issues of equality, the state will continue to lose each of these power struggles it has set up. If one branch of the military can offer benefits to same-sex couples, the others are not far behind. Next comes other government entities, and finally, the whole of Texas’ DOMA is doomed.

It’s a great day for the Texas National Guard!

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