BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana National Guard personnel seeking benefits for same-sex spouses will have an easier time filing the requests, despite a state refusal to let its workers process the paperwork because of Louisiana’s ban on gay marriage.
National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Kazmierzak said Thursday that federal employees will handle benefit enrollment requests for same-sex couples at Guard sites around Louisiana, so service members don’t have to travel to federal military installations for processing.
The change hinges on the status of employees handling the benefit paperwork.
Kazmierzak said the U.S. Property and Fiscal Officer in Louisiana, who handles federal property and federal financing for the state National Guard, will move some Guard employees to federal personnel status to deal with the benefit enrollments.
It’s an employment classification tweak that allows state officials to say their employees aren’t violat ing a state prohibition of gay marriage, but that also puts Louisiana in line with a Pentagon directive issued in September permitting same-sex benefits for service members.
“State officials will still follow the state constitution as we always have. We have worked with the Department of Defense and the National Guard Bureau to help them come up with a federal solution to their federal program,” Kazmierzak said.
Approved by lawmakers and voters in 2004, the Louisiana Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman and declares a legal status of marriage for any other couples “shall not be valid or recognized.”
Because of that constitutional provision, the Louisiana National Guard previously had been requiring people seeking same-sex benefits to file the paperwork with eight federal military installations around the state for process ing.
The requirement could force long trips to the closest site for some service members to get the same services granted to heterosexual married couples, like access to base commissaries, medical care and housing allowances.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had chastised states that were not allowing registration at National Guard sites, saying he would not tolerate state-employed officials refusing to treat all members of the military equally.
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