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Lambda Legal threatens lawsuit against Texas National Guard for blocking same-sex couples’ federal marriage benefits

LGBT Legal Cases Marriage equality

Texas state sealLambda Legal, a national LGBT legal advocacy group, has written a letter threatening a lawsuit against the Texas National Guard, which has so far refused to process same-sex couples’ benefits requests, despite an order from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel mandating that the military treat all marriages the same.  In its decision, the Texas National Guard–also known as the Texas Military Forces–could not recognize same-sex marriages between of the Texas Constitution’s provisions against marriage equality.

In its letter, Lambda Legal gave the Texas Military Forces 10 days to reverse its decision, and wrote that it would file litigation after that time in order to effect a change:

The Texas Military Forces apparently takes the position that registering the same-sex spouse of a service member in the federal Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (“DEERS”) and issuing a spousal ID, in fulfillment of the federal government’s legal obligation to provide federal spousal and family benefits to same-sex spouses, somehow would violate provisions of the Texas Constitution and Statutes that purport to deny State recognition to the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. This position is particularly dubious given that the “Federal Government provides virtually all of the funding, the material, and the leadership for the state Guard units” … including, specifically, DEERS and federal benefit administration for commissioned officers located in Texas. [emphasis in original]

Specifically citing the Supreme Court’s June decision invalidating Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the letter argued that “[w]hen voluntarily implementing federally-funded benefits programs on behalf of the U.S. Army National Guard, Texas may not violate the federal civil rights of eligible spouses of military personnel.”

Mississippi’s National Guard has also pointed to the state’s constitution to justify the state’s decision to ignore Hagel’s order.  “It is our intent to provide benefits and services to our men and women in uniform and at the same time abide by federal and state statutes,” Tim Powell, a spokesman for the Guard, told MSNBC.

If these decisions did end up in court, it will be fascinating to see the interplay between federal and state statutes on the question of marriage equality in the military context.

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