Last month, after receiving a memorandum from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the Department of Defense issued a press release stating their intent to extend military spousal benefits to same-sex couples by no later than Sept. 3, 2013. The directive came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. Tuesday was the first working business day that same-sex military couples were able to file for benefits.
Of the remaining states that still ban same sex marriage, Texas has once again declared themselves superior to the federal government by defying the Pentagon and the Department of Defense’s order to offer benefits for same-sex couples.
Major General John Nichols, the commanding general of the Texas Military Forces, released a written statement Friday informing state facilities that because the Texas State Constitution defines marriage as being “between one man and one woman” state military facilities were unable to comply with the orders of the Department of Defense.
The TXMF is a state agency under the authority and direction of the Texas state government. Therefore, the TXMF must consider that the Texas Constitution and Texas Family Code 6.204 conflicts with the DoD policy extending benefits to same-sex spouses. Due to this potential conflict, we are unable to enroll same-sex families into DEERs at our state supported facilities until we receive legal clarification. However, the TXMF remains committed to ensuring its military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled. As such, we courage anyone affected by this issue to enroll for benefits at a federal installation.
According to the Family Code of the Texas State Constitution, Section 6.204:
(a) In this section, ‘civil union’ means any relationship status other than marriage that: (1) is intended as an alternative to marriage or applies primarily to cohabitating persons; and (2) grants to the parties of the relationship legal protections, benefits, or responsibilities granted to the spouses of a marriage. (b) A marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union is contrary to the public policy of this state and is void in this state. (c) The state or an agency or political subdivision of the state may not give effect to a: (1) public act, record, or judicial proceeding that creates, recognizes, or validates a marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union in this state or in any other jurisdiction; or (2) right or claim to any legal protection, benefit, or responsibility asserted as a result of a marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union in this state or in any other jurisdiction. (Added by Acts 2003, 78th Leg., ch. 124, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 2003.)
Same-sex couples seeking marital benefits are being referred to federal bases to seek Military ID in order to claim benefits. Although Nichols listed 22 federal bases where couples would be able to be granted recognition for marriage, for many the distance to travel to a federal installation is hours away from their current residence. This creates an additional hardship for LGBT families, who have already been waiting for marital benefits, which heterosexual couples do not have to face.
Alicia Butler, an attorney in Austin, was rejected when went to Camp Mabry and tried to register with the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Butler’s wife, Judith Chedville, is a nurse and Iraq War Veteran, and is stationed at Camp Mabry as a member of the National Guard. The couple were legally married in California in 2009, and currently have a 5-month old daughter named Jordan.
According to Butler:
They told us to go to a different facility, such as Ft. Hood in San Antonio, where the federal government runs the facility, so that we could get the ID card. That’s an hour-and-a-half drive for me, and we have a five-month-old, so that’s kind of hard. […]We were also told that even if my spouse went there without me and got the registration and that all taken care of, Camp Mabry still would not take my photograph and issue the ID, which is something that’s normally done.
Butler was left with the impression that even if they were to travel to a federal facility to register, the state facilities would still continue to deny benefits “indefinitely.” Butler is also concerned that the state would also withhold survivor benefits if something were to happen to her wife if she were activated on state duty rather than federal deployment.
When contacted for a response, the Office of Gov. Rick Perry backed up Nichols stance on the issue by stating that Texas Military Forces, as a state agency, must obey the law.
Mississippi has also joined with Texas by referring couples to federal agencies instead of state agencies. Officials in 13 other states that also have current bans on same-sex marriage have publicly stated they will follow federal law and process all couples applying for benefits the same. Wisconsin banned same-sex marriage in a constitutional amendment in 2006, but offers a domestic partnership registry that grants a host of legal rights to same-sex couples. Wisconsin intends to remain in full compliance with the Department of Defense and processed at least one same-sex marriage filing as of yesterday.
A representative for the Pentagon, Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, said he was unable to confirm the circumstances in Texas, but insisted that federal installations in the state would be processing the claims:
All Federal Military installations in Texas will issue IDs to all who provide a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage.
Edited/Published by: SB