Four days after being criticized by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel for failing to fully comply with Department of Defense rules granting rights to same sex couples in the military, the National Guard today announced that it was now in full compliance with Hagel’s directive.
The Florida National Guard was one of nine that refused to grant the Department of Defense identification cards to same-sex spouses of Guard members.
The change was announced in a terse statement issued Monday afternoon.
“Effective Nov. 5, enrollment into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System can be accomplished at any Florida National Guard facility responsible for initial benefits enrollment,” the statement read. “The Florida National Guard is in full compliance with both federal and state statutes and governing policies.”
Hagel, in a speech last week, blasted the National Guard in Florida and eight other states. In all, there were 114 Army and Air National Guard sites not providing ID cards to eligible same-sex spouses.
“The balance between security and civil rights sends an important message to the world. At the Department of Defense, we work to preserve America’s individual liberties as well as defend our freedom,” Hagel told an audience at a gathering of the Anti-Defamation League. “When the Supreme Court issued its decision on the Defense of Marriage Act this summer, the Department of Defense immediately began working on providing the same benefits to all eligible spouses, regardless of sexual orientation. We did it because everyone who serves our country in uniform should receive the full benefits they earned, fairly and in accordance with the law. Everyone’s rights must be protected.”
Hagel said that by refusing to grant the identification cards at National Guard Facilities, it not only violated “the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to.
“This is wrong,” Hagel said. “It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD has fought to extinguish.”
Hagel ordered the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Frank Grass, “to take immediate action to remedy this situation. At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being denied. The Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions.”
Lt. Col. James K. Evans of the Florida National Guard said Monday, “The process of conferring same sex benefits at state facilities poses a potential conflict with the state constitution. As you might expect, constitutional questions are not settled quickly.
“In order to ensure the Florida National Guard is compliant with both state and federal statutes soonest, we have implemented a solution that ensures all initial Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS) actions occur in federal facilities, usually in the vicinity of the state facility that previously was used to support DEERS enrollment,” Evans said.
In September, Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw Jr., Adjutant General of the Florida National Guard, wrote to state Attorney General Pam Bondi seeking opinion on what to do about the same-sex identification cards.
Bondi’s office declined to offer an opinion, responding that Titshaw offered no specifics about what actions the new federal policy required or the obligations imposed.