Hagel orders same-sex benefits in Guards

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday ordered all state National Guards to grant same-sex couples full benefits after nine states have refused to do so.

In a speech at the Anti-Defamation League in New York on Thursday, Hagel said that he was directing the state Guards to issue same-sex couples ID cards and the benefits that come with them. He asked National Guard Chief Gen. Frank Grass to meet with the Guard state leaders in the nine states in order to resolve the issue.

“Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to,” Hagel said, according to prepared remarks of his speech.

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The dispute over military ID cards was sparked by the Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

In response to the ruling, the Pentagon issued a directive saying it would offer full benefits to same-sex couples.

But nine state National Guards, beginning with Texas, said they would not offer ID cards to same-sex couples, arguing that doing so conflicted with their state laws banning same-sex marriage.

The states said that couples could receive ID cards by traveling to federal facilities.

The other state National Guards that have not processed applications for ID cards are Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia.

A senior defense official said Hagel is prepared “to take further action” if the states do not comply with the Pentagon directive on benefits for same-sex spouses.

Hagel announced the Guard order Thursday in his keynote address for the Anti-Defamation League’s Centennial dinner, which was honoring his predecessor, Leon Panetta.

The defense official said Hagel was the first acting Defense secretary to speak before the organization in 20 years.

Hagel was speaking at the ADL Thursday after the group's leader, Abe Foxman, had expressed reservations about his appointment as Defense secretary.

Foxman had said in December 2012 that Hagel’s “record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling."

His group ultimately opted not to take a position on Hagel's confirmation, which faced stiff opposition from Republicans and some pro-Israel groups. He was narrowly confirmed in a 58-41 Senate vote in February.

In his speech Thursday, Hagel announced that he was working with the Israeli government to provide Israel with six new V-22 Ospreys.

Hagel also made the case for pursuing diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program, which Israeli leaders have warned will not stop Iran's nuclear ambitions. 

"As we engage Iran with our partners, we are very clear-eyed about reality in the Middle East," Hagel said. "But foreign policy is not a zero-sum game. If we can find ways to resolve disputes  peacefully, we are wise to explore them.

"Engagement is not appeasement, nor is it containment," he added. "We know what those are, we know where they lead, and we will not pursue them."