LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas National Guard would follow a Pentagon directive to process requests for benefits from same-sex couples, a spokesman said Tuesday, even though the state constitution forbids recognition of gay marriage or civil unions.
No such requests had been made by mid-afternoon Tuesday, the first working day applications for benefits were allowed under a Department of Defense directive to recognize same-sex marriages from states where they are legal after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Texas and Mississippi said Tuesday they would refuse to process requests for health benefits from same-sex couples at state-owned facilities, both states citing their constitutional ban on gay marriage. Guard officials in both states referred Guard personnel to federally owned military installations in those states to apply.
Gov. Mike Beebe’s office said it was researching the issue.
Several other states with gay marriage bans were proceeding under the Pentagon directive, according to published reports.
"We cannot speak for how other states do or do not implement DOD police, but Texas respects each state’s right to govern itself as it sees fit," the public affairs staff of the Texas Military Forces, which oversees that state’s Guard units, said in response to an inquiry from the Arkansas News Bureau. "However, as Texas Guardsmen, we are subject to the authority and direction of the Texas state government, which conflicts with the DOD policy extending benefits to to same-sex spouses.
Arkansas voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 83 in 2004, defining marriage as only between one man and one woman.
Lt. Col. Keith Moore, spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard, said Tuesday that absent guidance from the state, the agency would follow Department of Defense policy.
"According to the DOD policy, we have our paperwork in place and we are standing by to receive any," Moore said.
"Most of our policies and procedures on things like this are DOD policies. We do have some for state, but those are usually in some particular emergency type things," he said.
Moore could not say what the Guard would do if the governor or Legislature objected to the Guard accepting applications for benefits from gay couples.
"I’m not sure. That would be something our legal folks … would have to wrangle with," he said.
A statement from Gov. Mike Beebe’s office later Tuesday said" "We would normally follow Department of Defense directive. If for any reason it is believed that the directive is in conflict with any Arkansas law, we would have to see which was legally mandated, and whichever law superseded we would follow the law whatever that was."
"We do not know yet if it is in conflict. We will receive a briefing on this so yes we are checking into it," Beebe spokeswoman Stacey Hall said.