By Chris Tomlinson
AUSTIN — 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 that 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 limiting how and where same-sex spouses of National Guard members could register for identification cards and benefits, according to an Associated Press tally. Officials in 13 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 to service members in a letter obtained by the AP 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.
Nichols wrote that his agency, which oversees Texas’ National Guard units, “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 then listed 22 bases operated by the Department of Defense in Texas where service members could enroll their families.