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NM National Guard offering same-sex benefits

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The New Mexico National Guard has begun implementing new national rules requiring federal benefits to be paid to spouses of gay and lesbian members.

Governors in at least four states – Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi – have attempted to block the Department of Defense policy that took effect earlier this month for their state-managed national guards to recognize troops married to same-sex partners.

In New Mexico, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has voiced personal opposition to same-sex marriage but is not standing in the way of new national rules.

Implementation of the new federal marriage benefits for gay and lesbian troops in New Mexico are moving forward without any executive intervention.

“I’m in the process of getting that formal notification out to all members,” New Mexico National Guard Deputy Adjutant Gen. Juan Griego said. “DOD policy allows us to basically extend those benefits to same-sex partners, provided the marriage license is recognized by the state.”

Griego said he wasn’t aware if any New Mexico troops had applied for and been granted the marriage benefits, but said that if “they do submit for those benefits, then they’re going to be enrolled.”

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said the newly available benefits were put into effect without requiring any action from the governor, who is charged with leading the state’s Army National Guard and Air National Guard.

“No input from our office was necessary on this issue, because National Guard employees covered with federal benefits are covered under any directives from DOD,” Knell said. “National Guard employees who are (civilian) state employees already receive same-sex benefits, as do all state employees.”

The DOD policy extending marriage benefits to gay and lesbian troops took effect Sept. 3 after the U.S. Supreme Court in May struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The New Mexico Supreme Court in October is scheduled to hear argument on whether same-sex marriage is legal statewide after a state district judge in August found that any ban against same-sex marriage violates the state Constitution.

Regardless of the state Supreme Court’s ruling, Griego said the National Guard will continue to recognize troops already legally married.

“We’re not waiting on anything coming out of the state Supreme Court as far as moving forward on the policy changes,” Griego said. “It’s coming from the federal side. I don’t see anything that can happen here on the state side that can affect that.”

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