The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 12, 2013

Most Alabama Guard staff covered by same-sex policy

Associated Press

MONTGOMERY — Most, but not all, full-time staffers at the Alabama National Guard are covered by a new Pentagon policy providing benefits for same-sex couples.

So far, fewer than 10 in Alabama have requested the benefits, a Guard spokesman said Thursday.

Sept. 3 was the first day same-sex spouses of military members could seek the same health, housing and other benefits as heterosexual spouses. The new policy resulted from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Capt. Andrew Richardson of the Alabama National Guard said Thursday there are about 2,500 full-time Guardsmen in Alabama who are considered federal employees and are eligible for federal benefits. They are covered by the new policy.

He said the Guard has fewer than 300 full-time employees who are considered state employees, and they continue to receive state benefits. Those benefits don't cover same-sex marriages, which are not recognized by Alabama law.

Gov. Robert Bentley sought to explain the difference during an appearance in Wetumpka. "It's very simple. When they're under my command, they're under state law. When they're under the command of the president, they're under federal law," he said.

Richardson said that when traditional Guard members from Alabama are activated full time and deployed, their spouses will become eligible for federal benefits.

Under the Pentagon's new rule, same-sex spouses can seek benefits only if the service member provides a valid marriage certificate. For Alabama Guardsmen, that means going to another state to get married because Alabama has a state law and a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and woman.

"Our chaplains will not perform same-sex marriages because they are under my command," Bentley said.