For gay men and women serving openly in the U.S. military, progress has come pretty quickly of late, after many years of painful delays. In February, the Defense Department extended new benefits, but the Pentagon couldn’t go as far as officials wanted to because of the Defense of Marriage Act.
In the wake of DOMA’s demine, the Defense Department quickly endorsed full benefits for same-sex military couples, and in August, the Pentagon went a little further still. As of last week, a federal court even extended veterans’ benefits, ruling that married same-sex couples must be eligible for the same benefits as married heterosexual couples.
But the historic progress is not without challenges.
The Texas National Guard refused to process requests from same-sex couples for benefits on Tuesday despite a Pentagon directive to do so, while Mississippi won’t issue applications from state-owned offices. Both states cited their respective bans on gay marriage.
Tuesday was the first working day that gays in the military could apply for benefits after the Pentagon announced it would recognize same-sex marriages. The Department of Defense had announced that it would recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Texas and Mississippi appeared to be the only two states limiting how and where same-sex spouses of National Guard members could register for identification cards and benefits, according to an Associated Press tally.
That last part is of particular interest because it undermines the anti-gay argument – more than a dozen states that ban marriage equality are nevertheless prepared to process applications for benefits from same-sex couples in military families.
The posture from Texas and Mississippi, then, appears unsustainable.
The Associated Press report added:
Pentagon officials said Texas appeared to be the only state with a total ban on processing applications from gay and lesbian couples. Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said federal officials will process all applications from same-sex couples with a marriage certificate from a state where it is legal.
Alicia Butler said she was turned away from the Texas Military Forces headquarters in Austin early Tuesday and advised to get her ID card at Fort Hood, an Army post 90 miles away. She married her spouse - an Iraq war veteran - in California in 2009, and they have a 5-month-old child.
“It’s so petty. It’s not like it’s going to stop us from registering or stop us from marrying. It’s a pointed way of saying, ‘We don’t like you,” Butler said.
This isn’t over.