CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The spouses of gay and lesbian National Guard members cannot get military ID cards at most National Guard locations in West Virginia, which U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says is a violation of federal law.
The ID cards are necessary to get benefits, such as health care, that all military spouses are entitled to.
The West Virginia National Guard issues ID cards at nine locations across the state, according to its website. Four of those locations -- the four run by the federal government -- are issuing ID cards to same-sex spouses. However, the five state-run facilities are not issuing ID cards to same-sex spouses because of an interpretation of state law.
West Virginia law does not recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
"The problem is the law on the books, West Virginia's law," said Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. "The current legal conclusion is that that law prevents these same-sex couples from being processed. Because they're strictly state facilities, the legal conclusion is they fall under state law."
In a speech at the Anti-Defamation League in New York on Thursday, Hagel said West Virginia's interpretation is in violation of federal law.
"All spouses of service members are entitled to [Department of Defense] ID cards and the benefits that come with them, but several states are refusing to issue these IDs to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities," Hagel said. "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 did not mention West Virginia by name, but background information sent to reporters by a senior DOD official said West Virginia is one of nine states Hagel was referring to.
Messina said the National Guard is trying to accommodate federal, as well as state law.
"The policy seeks to meet those directives as best we can, acknowledging the laws that exist in West Virginia," he said.
Messina also said he did not know who made the ultimate decision about the state's policy.
There are 35 states, including West Virginia, that limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, either in their constitutions or in state code. The Defense Department cited only nine of those states for being in violation of its ID-card provisions.
Since Hagel's speech Thursday night, Indiana, one of the nine, has changed its policy and has begun issuing the IDs at all National Guard locations, according to Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.