Apparently not having learned their lesson in the 1860s, a handful of Republican-controlled red-state National Guards are publicly challenging the authority of the Secretary of Defense over the recognition of spouses of gay US service members.
I’d written about this issue a few days ago, when Secretary of Defense Hagel ordered rogue National Guard generals in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Indiana to start issuing military spouse IDs to the spouses of gay US service members. While other states had begun issuing the IDs, which became legal and necessary under the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, these 9 states refused.
Since that time, Indiana has agreed to provide the IDs.
South Carolina, on the other hand, has decided to stop issuing IDs all together, and making all National Guard spouses, straight and gay, travel the often- long distance to a federal military base to get their ID.
The other states are so far refusing to budge, which is a direct challenge to Secretary Hagel and the Pentagon’s authority over the National Guard.
While I’m sure many of the constituents in those states would enjoy yet another opportunity to tell the federal government to go to hell over a civil rights issue, the fact remains that every time the south goes to war over these issues, it loses. And this time, the lost might total in the billions of dollars.
You see, there’s a little known fact that the National Guard, while split in its administration between the states and the federal government, tends to get the lion’s share of its funding from the feds.
Take Mississippi (please). The Mississippi National Guard annual report for fiscal year 2011 shows that the state of Mississippi appropriated almost $7.8 million for the state National Guard. In that same year, the federal government gave the Mississippi National Guard $679 million. In 2012, the figures were similar: $685 million from the feds, $7.2 million from the state of Mississippi.
In other words, Mississippi gets nearly 99% of the budget of its state National Guard from Secretary Hagel, the guy they’re now saying they don’t need.
Now who’s a “taker”?
Things get awfully interesting when you’ve got federal money mixed in with state money, as it’s against federal law – as set by the US Supreme Court – to use federal money to deny federal benefits in any way to married gay couples. It’s all well and good for states like Mississippi to pretend that the National Guard is “theirs,” but when the feds are paying 99% of the tab, legally the Mississippi National Guard belongs to Uncle Sam.
As for the Mississippi constitution and the other state constitutions banning gay marriage, the US Constitution trumps any of their documents, individually or collectively.
This should get very interesting. Putting the gay issue aside, the federal government has a strong interest in preserving its right to run the National Guard as it sees fit. And the GOP-controlled National Guards are setting a precedent in which Defense Secretary Hagel’s orders, on anything, simply don’t matter. And that will have repercussions for Hagel and the DOD far beyond the issue of ID cards for gay spouses.