AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas National Guard refused to process requests from same-sex couples for benefits on Tuesday, citing the state constitution's ban on gay marriage, despite a Pentagon directive to do so.
Pentagon officials said Texas appeared to be the only state that planned to turn gay and lesbian couples away on Tuesday, the first working day that gays in the military may apply for benefits. 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 throwing out the Defense of Marriage Act. Passed by Congress in 1996, the act prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages and said no state could be forced to recognize such marriages that might become legal in another state.
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.
Governments in 19 states offer benefits for the same-sex partners of state employees, whether marriage is allowed or not.
National guard officials in Florida, Michigan and Oklahoma — all states that ban gay marriage — said they will follow federal law.
"It's truly outrageous that the State of Texas has decided to play politics with our military families," said Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partner Association, which advocates for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people in the armed forces. "Our military families are already dealing with enough problems and the last thing they need is more discrimination from the state of Texas."
The association gave the AP a copy of Nichols' letter.
State officials said they supported same-sex families but couldn't process the paperwork.
"Despite the legal conflict, the (Texas Military Forces) remains committed to ensuring military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled," said Laura Lopez, a spokeswoman for Texas Military Forces, which oversees the state's National Guard units.
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman at the Pentagon, said federal officials will process all applications from same-sex couples with a marriage certificate from a state where it is legal. According to U.S. officials, the Defense Department is aware of the Texas National Guard's interpretation of the policy, but the department has not made any legal determination on it.
AP reporters Lolita Baldor in Washington, John Flesher in Traverse City, Mich., Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Fla. and Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines, Iowa contributed to this report.
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