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Okla. National Guard reconsiders benefits to same-sex couples

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma now joins Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana as the only states that have publicly said they will limit how and where such couples can register for benefits, despite a recent Pentagon directive.

Despite a ruling from the Pentagon, Oklahoma is now one of the states that will limit how and where couples can register for benefits. Other states with these policies are Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The Oklahoma National Guard will not allow benefits to be processed from same-sex couples. In a policy reversal the Guard will not process these benefits after a notification from the Governor’s office. Gov Fallin’s office says that doing so would violate state law that bans gay marriage.

A recent Pentagon directive says that gay couples should be treated as any other union. Soldiers and other member of the National Guard are being told they can apply at federal level through facilities such as Tinker Air Force Base or Fort Sill, but not at state-run facilities staffed by state employees.

After a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court from last June throwing out the Defense of Marriage Act, the Department of Defense announced the recognition of same-sex marriages only if those unions where performed in states where it was legal. September 3rd was the first day that gay people in the military could apply for benefits, including coverage in health care, housing, and survivor benefits.

Originally the National Guard was going to process benefits as long as the member seeking those benefits could provide a legal marriage certificate or license. Those claims would be treated the same as any other couple seeking benefits. The Guard processed several claims before being notified by the Governor’s general counsel that the state constitution prohibits such actions.

In 2004, Oklahomans voted to amend the state constitution to define marriage to be between a man and a woman. That measure, which passed with 75% support from Oklahoma voters, also specifically prohibited giving benefits of marriage to people who are not married. It is therefore prohibited by the Oklahoma Constitution for National Guardsmen, or other state employees or entities, to process benefits for gay couples.

Cimarron Alliance, central Oklahoma’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has denounced Governor Mary Fallin’s order that the Oklahoma National Guard stop processing benefits for same-gender military personnel.

According to Scott J. Hamilton, executive director of the group, this is just one more example of telling LGBT Oklahomans that they are not welcome in this state.

“This is disturbing on many levels. The order serves to slap in the face the very women and men who sacrifice themselves for liberty and justice for all people. We see this as mean-spirited and it poses a hardship for many families in Oklahoma,” Hamilton said.

He also questions whether or not Gov. Fallin recognizes how this type of action further erodes America’s collective perception of Oklahoma.