WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday sharply criticized U.S. states – including Indiana – that are defying the Pentagon by refusing to allow National Guard facilities to issue ID cards that enable same-sex spouses of military members to claim benefits.
This is wrong, Hagel said in a speech in New York.
Not only does this violate the states obligation under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards theyre entitled to, he said.
Hagel said this is causing division among the military ranks.
In his remarks prepared for an Anti-Defamation League centennial dinner, Hagel did not name the states that are defying Pentagon policy on this issue. But the Pentagon has cited nine: Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.
The Pentagon says 114 Army and Air National Guard sites in those states are not providing ID cards to eligible same-sex spouses.
Hagel focused much of his speech on the gay rights matter, which was a central issue during the tenure of his predecessor at the Pentagon, Leon Panetta.
Under Pentagon policy that took effect Sept. 3, same-sex spouses of military members are eligible for the same health care, housing and other benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses. That decision followed the U.S. Supreme Courts ruling in June on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.
But some states have refused to allow issuance of the necessary Pentagon ID cards on National Guard facilities.
In Oklahoma, for example, Gov. Mary Fallin ordered her states National Guard to stop processing requests, making legally married gay couples apply for benefits on federal facilities such as Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
In 2004, Oklahoma approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting giving benefits of marriage to gay couples.
Hagel said these states policies are unfair. He said he ordered the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, to take immediate action to remedy this situation.
It was not immediately clear what legal authority Grass has to force the states to change course.
Hagel said he instructed Grass to meet with the adjutants general from the states where the ID cards are being denied. He said those adjutants general, who work for the governor of their respective states, will be expected to comply with Pentagon policy.