For the past few months, the Texas National Guard and the Department of Defense have been in a public brawl over gay rights. And last week, it appeared that the Defense Department, along with gay couples, emerged as the clear victor.
Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia are now complying with the DOD's orders and extending federal marriage benefits to same-sex spouses, the DOD announced last week.
But Texas wasn't about to take the defeat lying down. So instead, the Texas military attempted to clarify the news. It wasn't a loss per se, but more like a compromise, Texas military officials insisted. You see, Texas has actually introduced a "new procedure." This procedure apparently ensures that only some military personnel will handle the gay benefits. The Texas Military Forces explains how the "new procedure" works in a press release:
The new procedure essentially recognizes the conflict between the Texas Constitution and DOD policy mandating the enrollment of same-gender dependent spouses in benefits programs. Under the new procedure, DOD will provide federal personnel, funding and the use of federal personnel systems to enroll all dependents, including those in same-sex marriages, in benefits programs. This solution ensures that no Texas National Guard personnel in a state status will violate the Texas Constitution.
Gay rights advocates confirm that same-sex military spouses are now finally able to get benefits cards from military bases in Texas. But they're not sure what this whole "new procedure" is. To them, it just looks like the Texas National Guard is finally following the old procedure that it refused to follow earlier.
"We're certainly pleased that they have changed course and they're now treating all of their military members equally, but we do still have questions as to what changed," Chris Rowzee, a spokesman for the American Military Partner Association, tells Unfair Park.
This past summer, the Defense Department decided to extend federal marriage benefits to same-sex military spouses and civilian workers after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.
Then, in September, Lieutenant Judith Chedville and her spouse Alicia Butler went to Camp Mabry in Austin to get their benefits, bringing with them their California marriage license. But Camp Mabry personnel rejected the couple.
Butler sued. Finally, she got her spousal ID card last week.
"Texas has relented by processing these benefits for all service members and their spouses, they are now in compliance," her attorney, Dallas-based Paul Castillo of Lambda Legal, tells Unfair Park.
Meanwhile, the Texas military makes it seem as though a separate group of federal employees are now handling the gay benefits. Yet Butler's attorney says she was able to get her benefits from the very same military base where she had been rejected earlier--Camp Mabry.
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And Rowzee explains that federal personnel, not state employees, have always been the ones in charge of handing out marriage benefits.
"Those employees who perform those functions are already federal employees," she says.
In the end, however, maybe its better to just let everyone pretend that Texas got a special new procedure that the other states didn't get.
"The outcome is what we wanted, they are now processing everyone the same at all available processing locations," Rowzee says, "so as long as there's no additional discriminatory actions, then that's just fine with us."