BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Florida National Guard has found a way to issue full military benefits to same-sex wedded couples and still not violate the state’s gay-marriage ban.
Beginning Tuesday, all married military couples – gay and straight – will apply for and receive health, death and other benefits at federal facilities located within the state.
“In order to meet the state constitution and meet federal intent, we moved the functions from state buildings to federal buildings and we’re in compliance all the way around,” said Lt. Col. James Evans, director of public affairs for Florida National Guard. “We want to ensure that everyone is treated equally and all Florida National Guard members get their benefits in the same place.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal government must recognize legally married same-sex couples, the Pentagon adopted a policy that same-sex spouses of military members are eligible for the same health care, housing and other benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses.
Florida and eight other states announced they would not implement the Pentagon’s policy, prompting sharp criticism last week from U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
"This is wrong," Hagel said Thursday in a speech in New York.
"Not only does this violate the states' obligation under federal law, 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," he said.
Indiana reversed its decision a few days later. On Monday, Florida announced its compromise.
Seven National Guard facilities in Florida, including Homestead Air Reserve Base, will process benefits, Evans said.
Also, benefits will be processed at U.S. military bases in South Florida including Southern Command in Doral, Opa-locka and Miramar.
“We are pleased that gay National Guard members won’t have a separate, more difficult process for getting benefits for their spouses,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the state’s largest gay-rights group. “This move ensures that the same procedure applies regardless of sexual orientation.”