NC National Guard to recognize same-sex marriages
The North Carolina National Guard announced Monday that it will begin recognizing same-sex marriages, a policy shift that could have substantial financial benefits for families not previously eligible for the same federal military benefits awarded to heterosexual couples.
Spokesman Lt. Col. Maury A. Williams said the guard will abide by U.S. Department of Defense orders extending benefits to the same-sex spouses of uniformed service members. Williams said couples who wed in states where same-sex marriage is legal can begin applying for benefits immediately.
"In accordance with all applicable DOD directives, rules and regulations, we will do our best to facilitate effective and efficient assistance for these service members and their partners," Williams said.
With the announcement, North Carolina sidesteps a potentially thorny legal issue.
The Pentagon changed its policy following a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade federal agencies from recognizing same-sex unions. However, National Guard units have dual status as both federal troops and members of state militias, putting them under the command of both the president and the governor of the state where they are located.
Thirty-three states have laws or constitutional amendments banned gay marriage, while 19 offer benefits for same-sex spouses. North Carolina voters approved a Constitutional amendment in 2012 limiting marriage to a man and a woman.
After the U.S. Department of Defense began allowing same-sex couples to apply for identification cards and benefits last week, National Guard officials Texas, Alabama and Louisiana said they would refuse to process the applications. All three states have gay-marriage bans and are led by socially conservative Republican governors.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who appoints the commander of the state guard, did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.
The N.C. National Guard is comprised of about 12,000 soldiers and airmen, many of whom have been called to active duty in recent years for deployments to war zones in the Middle East.