(Photo: Reuters/Gene Blevins)
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) has ordered the state's National Guard to stop processing requests for same-sex couples seeking military benefits. Fallin argues that the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage prohibits her from providing same-sex couples in the military with federal benefits such as health care and housing, in spite of a new policy issued by the Pentagon earlier this year ordering her to do so.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for the governor's office, said Wednesday that Fallin would be going against state law by awarding benefits to same-sex military couples in the state. In 2004, 75 percent of Oklahomans voted to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages or civil unions. Fallin's office suggests same-sex couples have their benefit requests processed at federal military installations, including Fort Sill or Tinker Air Force Base, instead of state-run facilities like the National Guard.
"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 told the Associated Press Wednesday. "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."
Additionally, Oklahoma National Guard spokesman Col. Max Moss told NewsOK that no state employees, including Oklahoma National Guard soldiers and airmen, would process requests for same-sex benefits.
In August, the Pentagon released a draft proposal altering its policy toward same-sex couples following the Supreme Court's ruling in June that struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, thus giving same-sex couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.
The new policy enacted by the Pentagon made a range of federal benefits, including healthcare, housing and survivor benefits, available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples in the military. Additionally, the new policy, which went into effect on September 3, also awarded 10 days extra leave to same-sex military members serving in states where same-sex marriage is illegal, with the intent that these couples could use their time off to marry in a different state.
Oklahoma is the fourth state to order its National Guard to stop processing same-sex military member benefit requests. Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, all of which have same-sex marriage bans, did the same after the Pentagon's policy change in August.
Fallin's change in policy, which is to take effect September 5, comes after the Oklahoma National Guard has already processed benefit requests for two gay soldiers in the state.
The American Civil Liberties Union is joining forces with an activist group dedicated to ensuring same-sex couples receive federal benefits in the military. The two groups are seeking to petition the U.S. Defense Department to force Texas, Mississsippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma to comply with the Pentagon directive and continue processing benefit requests.
Chris Rowzee, spokeswoman for National Guard affairs at the American Military Partner Association, told Reuters that her activist organization plans to refute Oklahoma's directive, arguing that Fallin's legal argument is "full of holes."
"National Guards are not solely state entities; they are a joint entity with the federal government," Rowzee argued.
The ACLU claims they are setting up "needless, discriminatory roadblocks" by forcing same-sex couples to file their requests at federal military installations, however, supporters of the ban have argued that the states are not prohibiting same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits but are simply trying to align themselves with their state laws.