Defying the orders of the Secretary of Defense and a presidential decree, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin is determined to avoid helping any National Guard same-sex couples get their federally mandated military benefits. What’s the sneaky way to do that? Just refuse to process benefit applications for all Guard couples, whether gay or straight.
Outrageous? Ill-considered? An incredible inconvenience to every married Oklahoma National Guard member? Indeed, it is all of these things. Nevertheless, this is Republican Gov. Fallin’s “non-discriminatory” plan that allows her to discriminate against her state’s gay Guard members.
State-owned National Guard facilities in Oklahoma will no longer issue military ID cards to spouses or process any other type of marriage-related benefit application. All Guard members will have to travel to one of a handful of federally-owned National Guard bases or U.S. military installations within the state to get these things done. Often, these facilities are more than an hour away.
The ID card is an all-important document to a military spouse. Among other things, it guarantees access to health care, housing allowances, child care, tax-free shopping for groceries, goods and services at military commissaries and base exchanges, and life insurance benefits.
Initial reports indicated that Gov. Fallin intended to completely deny marriage benefits to all Guard members. Not so, she now says. She tweeted on Nov. 20: “To set the record straight – no National Guardsman in Oklahoma is being denied marriage benefits. Stories that suggest otherwise are false.”
Of course, she’s right. These are federal entitlements we’re talking about. She can’t unilaterally deny them to anyone who qualifies. What she can do, though, is make obtaining those benefits stupefyingly inconvenient for every single hardworking married Guard member in the entire state of Oklahoma.
It’s a satisfying way to thank these brave people for their selfless service, isn’t it?
Undoubtedly, after consulting with the state Attorney General, this was the only idea state officials could come up with that would give Gov. Fallin what she wanted. It mirrors what’s going on in Georgia, Texas and other resistant states.
First Came the Decision to Refuse Benefits Processing Only for Gay Couples
Gov. Fallin’s earlier position attempted to block only same-sex couples from applying for benefits at state-run National Guard facilities. That obviously discriminatory ploy fell apart quickly. Making things tougher for all couples became the state’s Plan B. Ah equality, there you are, we missed you.
Gov. Fallin says she’s taking this position because her state’s constitution requires her to. She said:
Oklahoma law is clear. The state of Oklahoma does not recognize same sex marriages, nor does it confer marriage benefits to same sex couples. The decision reached today allows the National Guard to obey Oklahoma law without violating federal rules or policies. It protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people.
Notice that Gov. Fallin thinks she’s avoiding implementation of federal “rules or policies.” How about federal law, governor? Federal law, which entitles military spouses to ID cards and benefits, does not bend to state law. It’s the other way around. It’s a little thing called the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution. You can play this game for a while, but ultimately you will lose.
It‘s Not Just Oklahoma, By the Way
Oklahoma is not the only state doing this desperate dance. Nine states with constitutional bans on same-sex marriage began squirming with dismay and looking for ways out as soon as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued his order to begin providing federal benefits to gay married couples.
Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Indiana, South Carolina, West Virginia and Texas all pushed back after the Pentagon announced it would recognize same-sex marriages in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) decision last June. Three states, West Virginia, Florida and Indiana, have reportedly since reconsidered and will comply.
Overall, there are 29 states with constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, but 22 of them have somehow seen their way clear to complying with federal law on the issue of federal same-sex benefits. Unfortunately, within the states still dragging their heels there are approximately 114 Army and Air National Guard bases that have stopped issuing spouse ID cards.
The Department of Defense position on this matter is crystal clear and unwavering.
“This is wrong,” said Secretary Hagel during an early November public appearance. “It causes division among our ranks, and it furthers prejudice.”
“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 they’re entitled to,” he continued.
For National Guard, Sometimes the State is in Charge, Sometimes Not
This confusing situation results, in part, from the unique dual role of the National Guard. Much of the time, the National Guard is under control of the state, with the governor giving the orders as commander in chief. Gov. Fallin is acting in this role in making this decision. At times, however, the president activates the National Guard, placing it under federal control.
Additionally, there’s the question of funding. Approximately 90 percent of the Oklahoma Military Department, including the National Guard, is funded by the federal government. The feds also paid for most of Oklahoma’s Guard training centers and armories, though they are now owned by the state.
“Computer systems, the equipment that is used both to process the enrollments as well as provide the services — it’s federal equipment, federal programs,” Chris Rowzee, National Guard affairs liaison for the American Military Partner Association, told NPR. Rowzee wonders what all the flap is about, since state funds aren’t being tapped for the processing of federal benefits.
If the five recalcitrant states don’t back down and begin processing benefits as required for all military spouses, the likely outcome is legal action or some kind of federal funding cutoff. Which it will be remains to be seen.
Gov. Fallin, stop inconveniencing your National Guard members to prove a point. We know you’re a Republican. We know you object to same-sex marriage. We know you’re all about “family values” — except for that time you got divorced after reportedly having a fling with a member of your security team. That was a little embarrassing, but you soldiered on.
We also know that there are federal laws that ensure all National Guard members receive the spousal benefits to which they are entitled. Nothing you do will change that. Time to comply, Oklahoma.
Care 2 readers, if you’d like to tell Gov. Fallin what you think of her policy requiring all married couples to get their spousal benefits processing done somewhere other than at state-run National Guard facilities, sign this petition.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Defense Imagery
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