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Thursday, September 5, 2013

PA National Guard offering benefits to same-sex couples

Posted By on Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 4:15 PM

The Pennsylvania National Guard is offering spousal benefits to legally married same-sex couples -- even as state government continues fighting efforts to recognize same-sex marriage.

Staff Sgt. Matt Jones, a public affairs specialist for the PA National Guard, says that benefits became available Sept. 3, per an order from the Pentagon that extends benefits to same-sex spouses of uniformed service members and Department of Defense civilian employees -- provided they have a valid marriage certificate.

For now, at least, that means a marriage consecrated outside Pennsylvania, which does not recognize same-sex marriage. Even so, within the Pennsylvania National Guard, "Anyone who has a federally-recognized marriage license, regardless of their gender, can receive benefits," Jones says.

And yesterday, he says, the PA Guard received its first same-sex couple in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System -- or DEERS -- office, which allows service-members to enroll their spouses and children for identification cards, as well as survivor and other benefits.

Jones says the Guard is still notifying service-members of the availability of benefits using internal communications, social media and the chain of command. "Most of it is through the chain of command," he says. "Once the [Department of Defense] enacts a policy, then it's put down" through the ranks.

But not all guard units in other states have implemented the benefits. In Louisiana, the National Guard plans to refuse the Pentagon order because the state does not recognize same-sex marriages. The Texas National Guard has also refused to offer spousal benefits.

Jones says the decision to offer benefits does not conflict with the state's own Defense of Marriage of Act: "Obviously Pennsylvania doesn't issue same-sex marriage licenses yet -- that's why it has to be anything legally recognized elsewhere." The Alabama National Guard is also offering benefits, even though the state doesn't recognize legal marriages performed out-of-state.

It's good news in Pennsylvania, where Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini is expected to soon issue a ruling in the case of a Montgomery County official issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite a state ban on same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the state arguing that the ban is unconstitutional.

In that case,Pennsylvania General Counsel James D. Schultz today announced the retention of former state Supreme Court Justice William H. Lamb to assist with the state's defense. According to a press release from the Office of General Counsel, a legal brief on behalf of the state is due Sept. 16 in the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. A case-management conference is scheduled for Sept. 30, according to court filings.

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