State Guard leader says decision complies with federal law, anti-gay state constitution
Originally published: Oct. 1, 2013, 6:47 p.m.
Updated: Oct. 3, 2013, 9 a.m.
[Ed. Note -- The original version of this article omitted the words "at state facilities" in the headline. Maj. Jim Roth of the South Carolina National Guard told qnotes the state has not stopped benefits, but simply transferred their operations. "To avoid violating state law while ensuring our Servicemembers who are married to members of the same sex receive the benefits they clearly deserve, we are processing their benefits using our federal personnel and our federal facilities," Roth said. We regret the error.]
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina National Guard announced Tuesday that it would not process benefits for legally-married same-sex couples at state-owned facilities. Instead, the state guard will direct all family benefits applications to federal installations.
South Carolina Adjutant General Robert Livingston told The Greenville News that South Carolina will comply with U.S. Department of Defense directives to begin providing benefits to all legally-married couples, regardless of sex, following June’s U.S. Supreme Court marriage striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The guard’s decision, Livingston said, allows the state to follow its constitution, which bans gay marriage, while giving same-sex couples access to benefits.
Four other states — Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana — have refused to offer benefits, citing their own anti-gay state constitutional amendments. Despite having a similar anti-gay amendment, North Carolina announced in September its national guard would offer benefits to same-sex couples.
The American Military Partner Association, a national support organization for LGBT military spouses and families, said South Carolina’s decision could threaten gay families’ access to state activities and benefits. The group also wants President Barack Obama and the Department of Defense to address the situation.
“This supposed conflict between state and federal law when it comes to the National Guard needs to be addressed by the Administration and the Department of Defense,” Stephen Peters, president of the group, said in a release Tuesday evening. “We are very concerned that this same rationale will be used to deny our military spouses access to family readiness groups, marriage enrichment retreats, and other events at National Guard facilities in these minority of states that are refusing to comply with the Defense Department direction.”