The Washington Post this week called the National Guard a "new gay rights battleground," pointing to the decision of four states–Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma–to refuse to process married same-sex couples' benefits applications despite an order from the Pentagon to do so.
In its order, the Pentagon said that service members living in non-marriage equality would be offered seven days of leave to travel to states with equal marriage rights so that they could return to their home states and access federal marriage benefits.
Becuase of that policy, the administration argues, it doesn't really matter that those four states are refusing to process benefits applications. But as NBC News reports, the road to equal benefits has been long for some married same-sex couples–literally:
"All federal military installations (in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana) will issue IDs to all those who provide a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage,” Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, said via email.
For Alicia Butler, the same-sex spouse of Texas National Guard member, completing that task will take a 120-mile, round-trip drive from her home in Austin to the nearest federal installations, either Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio or Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. With a 6-month-old child and with Butler and her National Guard spouse, Judith Chedville, each holding jobs, the couple hasn’t had time yet to make that trek, Butler said. They married in California in 2008. Chedville served in Iraq.
“This is an ominous signal Texas is giving,” Butler said. “When I get my military ID, will they let me onto Camp Mabry (the Austin-based headquarters of the Texas Military Forces)? And if I get on the property, will I be allowed to use the services there for military spouses: the gym, the PX, and marriage-support groups? That’s all still very unclear.”
While there is a question of state vs. federal law here–officials with the four states' National Guards say they're simply obeying those states' constitutional bans on marriage equality–the system for married same-sex couples to access benefits in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma smacks of an unfair 'separate but equal' standard. Technically, no rights are being withheld, but it is undeniable that forcing same-sex couples to drive farther than different-sex couples to obtain the same benefits creates a feeling of second-class citizenship.
"It … ignores the culture that is created in these states — the culture that says it's acceptable to discriminate against a group of people," Chris Rowzee, a spokesperson for the American Military Partner Association, told NBC News. "When these states do this, they are telling their military units, commanders and members that it is OK to treat (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) members differently, to discriminate against them. That culture is what leads to gay bashing, hate crimes, harassment and discriminatory employment practices."