National guard changes same-sex policy

The Louisiana National Guard announced changes in procedures that will allow its soldiers and employees with same-sex married partners to take advantage of federal benefits without violating Louisiana law.

State law forbids state employees, which Guardsmen technically are, from taking any actions that would support the legality of same-sex marriage. Gay married couples employed by the Louisiana National Guard were unable to participate in the health care services, housing, shopping at low-priced military grocery and goods stores as well as other benefits available to other members of the military.

The plan is to give a federal employee, the U.S. Property and Fiscal Officer, the authority to handle the paperwork, instead of state worker, Lt. Col. Michael Kazmierzak, spokesman for the Louisiana National Guard, said Thursday. The Louisiana National Guard is part of the state military department but can become federalized under certain situations.

“Federal personnel will enroll all dependants of same-sex marriages, in benefits programs. This solution ensures that no Louisiana National Guard Personnel will be asked to violate the Louisiana Constitution,” he said.

The amendment to the Louisiana Constitution, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman only, was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2004.

Gay and lesbian Guardsmen seeking spousal benefits had been required to drive to federal installations, such as, Fort Polk and Barksdale Air Force Base, to fill out the paperwork and acquire the necessary identification cards.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the U.S. Department of Defense had been pushing states with laws similar to Louisiana’s to create rules that would treat all members of the military equally, regardless of sexual orientation.

Kazmierzak said the Louisiana solution followed the general pattern used in Texas. The change brings Louisiana’s policy in line with that of 46 other states that have already ensured equal benefits for their Guard members.

“This is a great day for married National Guard members in our state, and another small step down the road to equality for all married couples,” said Equality Louisiana Research and Policy Coordinator Matthew Patterson in a prepared statement. The group advocates for the expansion of civil rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.