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Texas Guard won’t process same-sex benefits

Officials point to state ban on gay marriage

AUSTIN, Texas — 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 performed in states where they are legal. The change followed the US Supreme Court decision that threw out parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.

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Texas and Mississippi appeared to be the only 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.

Officials in 13 other states that also ban gay marriage — including Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, and Georgia — said Tuesday they will follow federal law and process all couples applying for benefits the same.

Major General John Nichols, the commanding general of Texas Military Forces, wrote to service members in a letter obtained by the Associated Press that because the Texas Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, his state agency couldn’t process applications from gay and lesbian couples. But he said the Texas National Guard, Texas Air Guard, and Texas State Guard would not deny anyone benefits.

Nichols wrote that his agency, which oversees Texas’s National Guard units, ‘‘remains committed to ensuring its military personnel and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled. As such, we encourage anyone affected by this issue to enroll for benefits at a federal installation.’’ He then listed 22 bases operated by the Department of Defense in Texas where service members could enroll their families.

A spokesman for Governor Rick Perry of Texas said the Texas Military Forces, as a state agency, must obey state law.

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

Pentagon officials said Texas appeared to be the only state with a total ban on processing applications from gay and lesbian couples. Spokesman Lieutenant Commander 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.

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