The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

September 17, 2013

Fallin orders Guard to not process benefits for gay couples

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has ordered the National Guard to stop processing requests for military benefits for same-sex couples, her office confirmed Tuesday, despite a Pentagon directive to do so.

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said the governor was following the wish of Oklahoma voters, who approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 that prohibits giving benefits of marriage to gay couples.

“Because of that prohibition, Gov. Fallin’s general counsel has advised the National Guard not to process requests for benefits of same-sex couples,” Weintz said. “Gay couples that have been legally married in other states will be advised they can apply for those benefits on federal facilities, such as Tinker Air Force Base, rather than state-run facilities.”

Fallin ordered the policy change on Sept. 5, Weintz said.

The policy is a shift from how the Guard had been handling requests for benefits from same-sex partners in the ranks of the roughly 9,500 guard soldiers and airmen in Oklahoma, said Oklahoma National Guard spokesman Col. Max Moss.

Moss said the agency had been processing benefits for same-sex soldiers just like those from heterosexual couples until Fallin’s office ordered the change in policy. He said state officials already had helped process benefit requests for two gay soldiers before Fallin’s directive.

Moss added that any soldiers who request marriage benefits for their same-sex spouse will be informed how they can receive those benefits.

“If we have a situation where we have a soldier who’s in a same-sex marriage, we’re going to explain to that soldier how they can go about acquiring those benefits,” Moss said. “At this point, that’s directing them to a federal facility.

“We want our soldiers to have all the benefits to which they’re entitled to.”

The Pentagon announced last month that same-sex spouses of military members will be eligible for the same health care, housing and other benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses starting Sept. 3. That decision followed consultation with the Justice Department and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

After the U.S. Department of Defense began allowing same-sex couples to apply for identification cards and benefits, National Guard officials in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana said they would refuse to process the applications. Like Oklahoma, all three states have gay-marriage bans and are led by socially conservative Republican governors.

Fallin’s decision prompted the president of a support group for gay military families to call for the Defense Department to “stop this discrimination.”

“Since the governor of Oklahoma has decided to join Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana in playing politics with our military families, we need immediate and decisive action from the administration and the defense department in affirming that all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, will be treated equally,” Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, said in a statement.

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