WASHINGTON — An LGBT legal group has given the Texas National Guard 10 days to respond to its request that it begin enrolling same-sex spouses of service members into the federal Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) at its facilities. DEERS is the system used to process military benefits, including providing service members and their families with the military ID card that gives them access to military facilities and other services.
The move likely is the final step before the legal group, Lambda Legal, would go to court seeking to force the Texas National Guard to end the differential treatment.
The Texas National Guard, called the Texas Military Forces, has asserted that it cannot process those requests because of Texas' constitutional ban on recognition of same-sex couples' marriages.
As NBC News reported earlier this week, "The National Guards of Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana have all decided to stall on processing requests for benefits from same-sex couples, citing their state constitutions, which do not recognize those marriages."
On Friday, however, Lambda Legal — an LGBT legal advocacy group — sent a letter to Major General John F. Nichols, the man responsible for running the Texas National Guard, letting Nichols know the group is representing Alicia Butler, the wife of 1st Lt. Judith Chedville — a member of the Army National Guard — and asking that the Texas Military Forces reconsider the decision not to process Butler's request to be entered into the DEERS system.
Specifically, the lawyer, Paul D. Castillo, wrote:
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.
Citing the Supreme Court's June decision striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, he noted, "When 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. The discriminatory treatment of lesbian and gay spouses of service members, including those in the Army National Guard in Texas, is illegal."
Castillo concluded, "[W]e respectfully request that your agency reconsider its position and that you instruct your staff to abide by the directive and policies of the DoD by enrolling eligible same-sex spouses of service members so they may receive the federal benefits to which they are entitled."
Lambda Legal's letter asked for a response within 10 days of the receipt of the letter.