The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

December 4, 2013

Okla. Guard: Benefit change causes little turmoil

OKLAHOMA CITY — Nearly a month after a directive by Gov. Mary Fallin changed the way the Oklahoma National Guard handles marriage benefits, Guard officials say the change has caused little disruption.

The Guard stopped handling marriage benefits at two state-owned facilities after U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the Guard to begin processing those benefits for same-sex couples.

In last month's announcement, Fallin said marriage benefits for all couples would be processed by federal, not state employees.

But the change has had little practical effect, since only two state-owned sites processed marriage benefits before the change.

Those two facilities — the Norman and Broken Arrow armed forces reserve centers — are located near other sites that process those benefits. So soldiers and airmen who previously would have gone to those two centers will now go to other sites in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas.

Following the change, the Guard now accepts applications for marriage benefits and military ID cards for all spouses — including same-sex couples — at four federally owned facilities around the state or at any of the five federal military installations in the state.

National Guard spouses now may apply for military benefits at Camp Gruber, near Braggs; the Regional Training Institute in Oklahoma City; and Air National Guard bases at Will Rogers World Airport and Tulsa International Airport.

Couples may also have marriage benefit applications processed at any of the state's five federal military installations: Tinker Air Force Base, Altus Air Force Base, Vance Air Force Base, Fort Sill and McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.

"There's no disruption at all," Col. Max Moss, a spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard, told The Oklahoman. "All of those seeking ID cards and benefit requests are being processed."

The move represents a compromise between the federal directive requiring the Oklahoma National Guard to offer full military benefits to same-sex partners and a state prohibition on gay marriage.

Fallin said the Oklahoma National Guard couldn't process benefits for same-sex couples who were married elsewhere because of an Oklahoma Constitution amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Chris Rowzee, a spokeswoman for the American Military Partner Association, said the decision isn't ideal but shows progress.

"I think it's certainly moving in the right direction," she said. "Now at least everyone is being treated the same."

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