Ga. Guard, Pentagon at odds on same-sex IDs

Georgia has refused to honor a directive from the Pentagon that the state issue identification cards on its National Guard facilities to same-sex married couples so they can access full military benefits.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel increased pressure Thursday on the nine states that have refused to hand out the cards because same-sex marriage is not legal there, ordering the head of the National Guard Bureau to meet with the state leaders “to remedy this situation.”

The conflict, likely to directly affect only a tiny fraction of Georgia’s Guard members, illustrates the quandary some states are in as they try to cope with federal and state marriage laws that differ.

“The State of Georgia does not recognize same-sex marriages and is not authorizing the Georgia National Guard to process the applications for same-sex married benefits at state facilities,” said Joseph Quimby, deputy director of public affairs for the Georgia Department of Defense. “Any personnel seeking to apply for same-sex married benefits will be referred to federal facilities.”

A U.S. Defense Department official would not discuss possible legal remedies.

“These are federal ID cards paid for with federal funding to provide federally mandated benefits,” the official said.

Guard officials are left in a bind, as they are under state control but federal money supports many of their activities as part-time reserve forces for the Army and Air Force.

There are more than 13,000 Guardsmen in Georgia and more than 70 Guard facilities in the state, but the vast majority of funding comes from the federal government.

“We’re caught in that catch-22: Do we violate federal law or do we violate state law?” said Brig. Gen. John King, Director of the Joint Staff of the Georgia National Guard. “You can’t win.”

King said he expected more “clarification” soon from the state on how to resolve the issue.

The showdown is a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision this year to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, leading federal agencies including the military to grant benefits to same-sex married couples.

But those couples can only get married in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2004.

After the June ruling, the Department of Defense updated its ID card system in September to allow same-sex spouses.

Hagel went after the defiant states in a speech Thursday night to the Anti-Defamation League in New York.

“Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, but 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,” Hagel said.

“This is wrong. It causes division among our ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DOD has fought to extinguish, as has the ADL.”