The Oklahoma National Guard will begin processing military benefit applications for same-sex partners at a few federally owned National Guard facilities around the state, Gov. Mary Fallin announced Wednesday.
Same-sex married couples still won't be able to apply for benefits at state-owned facilities, and state employees won't process the applications.
Same-sex partners may now apply for military benefits at Camp Gruber, near Braggs; the Regional Training Institute in Oklahoma City and Air National Guard bases at Will Rogers World Airport and Tulsa International Airport.
Same-sex couples can also continue with a previous National Guard recommendation to have their benefits processed at the state's five federal military installations: Tinker Air Force Base, Altus Air Force Base, Vance Air Force Base, Fort Sill and McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
The announcement Wednesday represents a compromise between a federal directive requiring the Oklahoma National Guard to offer full military benefits to same-sex partners and a state prohibition on gay marriage.
Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the Oklahoma National Guard to begin issuing military ID cards and providing benefits to same-sex couples. But Fallin previously had said the Oklahoma National Guard couldn't process benefits for same-sex married couples because of an Oklahoma Constitution amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Fallin said the Oklahoma's ban on marriage benefits for same-sex couples is clear.
“The decision reached today allows the National Guard to obey Oklahoma law without violating federal rules or policies,” she said. “It protects the integrity of our state constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people.”
Chris Rowzee, a spokeswoman for the American Military Partner Association, said the plan still treats gay and lesbian National Guard members differently than their straight counterparts. The plan still requires gay and lesbian service members to travel to different facilities, which she called unacceptable.
Rowzee noted that the large majority of full-time National Guard employees are federal workers. She said the decision to use federal employees to process those benefits is a false distinction.
“I think it's a very weak attempt to find some sort of acceptable compromise,” she said.
Oklahoma is among nine states that have been cited by the Pentagon as being out of step with federal policy on the issue, along with Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.
Florida National Guard officials have since said they would begin processing those benefits at federally owned National Guard facilities, but not state offices.
Indiana National Guard officials announced they had begun processing benefits but had delayed the process for a month while the state's attorney general considered the impact of the move. Both Florida and Indiana have same-sex marriage bans in place.
The military, including the Oklahoma National Guard, began processing military benefits after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the so-called “don't ask, don't tell” policy that barred openly gay service members from serving in the military. But the Guard stopped processing those benefits after Fallin notified leaders that offering marriage benefits to same-sex couples violated Oklahoma law.
In a statement Wednesday, National Guard Bureau spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt said bureau chief Gen. Frank Grass has met with adjutants general from several states to make sure those states are in line with Department of Defense policy.
“Soldiers, airmen and their family members who serve their nation deserve the full complement of benefits they have earned through their service and sacrifice,” Breitenfeldt said. “Nothing less is acceptable.”