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Texas National Guard Won't Process Benefits for Same-Sex Couples (Update)

Update: Sixteen Democratic state lawmakers have signed a letter asking the head of Texas Military Forces to process benefits claims for same-sex spouses.

“We call on you to respect Texas’ military families, to reconsider your position, and to follow the lead of virtually every other Adjutant General for the National Guard of the United States by, without further delay, enrolling all eligible spouses of National Guard service members at facilities operated by Texas Military Force,” the letter reads.

Among the signees: one Austin-area lawmaker, State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.

As KUT reported below, Major General John Nichols refused to take applications for those federal benefits last week, when they became available to same-sex spouses, arguing that the state constitution prohibits it; instead, Nichols says Texas National Guard staff can apply at federal military installations such as Fort Hood.

Nichols also wrote Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, requesting a legal opinion. “Since it could take several months to receive a response,” the lawmakers’ letter says, “we ask that you conduct enrollment of eligible spouses during this review process.”

You can read the letter on the website of KUT News’ reporting partners The Texas Tribune.

Update (Sept. 6): The head of Texas Military Forces is asking the Texas Attorney General for his opinion on providing benefits for same-sex partners.

Federal employees, including members of the military, became eligible for benefits this week. But as reported below, requests are not being processed by state agencies because they argue the Texas Constitution forbids recognition of same-sex marriage. Requests are being referred instead to U.S. military installations.

Texas Military Forces is asking the AG’s Office for a legal opinion on what actions, if any, the organization can take without violating state law. Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott is campaigning for governor. 

Original post: The Texas National Guard is refusing to process requests for benefits for same-sex couples, citing the state constitution’s ban on gay marriage.

Yesterday was the first day that members of the military can apply for a dependent ID card that allows access to things like health benefits and housing allowances. But Major General John Nichols said in a memo that the Defense Department directive conflicts with the state constitution, so the Guard is encouraging same-sex couples to apply at federal military installations.

Austin resident Alicia Butler’s partner is a first lieutenant with the Texas Army National Guard. She says they had been waiting for this day for years.  “It’s humiliating to have to wait outside the base to have lunch with my partner or make other arrangements if we need to take care of our daughter and I can’t bring her up there,” Butler says. “It’s just an affront to our dignity.”

Maj. Gen. Nichols says same-sex partners can enroll instead at federal military installations, such as Fort Hood in Killeen, or Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

“It’s petty,” Butler says. “We can drive an hour and a half to three hours to somewhere else that’s a federal facility to go ahead and take the same steps. This is just a little dig at our National Guard members’ families to try to make a point for somebody.”

Mississippi is following a simiar track, according to NPR:

Mississippi National Guard spokesman Tim Powell, quoted by The Associated Press, says the main factor in determining where same-sex spouses can apply for benefits came down to the property owner. He said only National Guard offices on federal property would accept the applications in Mississippi, which also constitutionally bans gay marriage.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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