Brandon, FL (Law Firm Newswire) November 25, 2013 - Following criticism from the Pentagon, Florida will grant equal access to benefits for opposite-sex and same-sex spouses of Florida National Guard personnel.
Following the June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidating part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Pentagon altered its policy to grant legally-married, same-sex couples the same spousal benefits available to opposite-sex couples. That new policy included National Guard forces of each state. But Florida and eight other states that do not recognize same-sex marriages refused to implement the policy.
Tampa family law attorney Kristi McCart says that this refusal created hardships for military members.
“The state created a situation wherein Florida National Guard personnel and their spouses had to travel to federal military bases in order to obtain ID cards necessary to register for benefits,” McCart said. “These same cards were available to opposite-sex couples at all state National Guard facilities. That's a pretty cut-and-dried case of discrimination.”
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel denounced those policies in a recent speech in New York, N.Y., calling them “wrong.” He did not call out the states by name, but the Pentagon has cited Florida and eight other states: Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.
Florida soon responded with a compromise. In order to follow Pentagon policy without violating the Florida State Constitution, benefits programs for the Florida National Guard will henceforth be administered at federal buildings, “usually in the vicinity of the state facility” where they previously took place, according to Lt. Col. James K. Evans. In total, seven federal National Guard facilities will be available to personnel in addition to the federal military bases in the state.
“This means opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples receive equal treatment, which is the most important thing,” observed McCart. “Hopefully the limitations of using only federal facilities will not present any additional burden to service personnel.”
Shortly before Florida's announcement, Indiana reversed its benefits policy in response to Secretary Hagel's remarks. Hagel said he ordered General Frank Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, to meet with officials in states where ID cards are being denied.
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