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Same-Sex Marriage Benefits For North Carolina National Guard Members

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Jacinta Quesada
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When the United States Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, it opened a lot of doors for gay couples. 

In its wake, President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to remove all roadblocks to the recognition of same-sex marriage. That has a big impact on couples’ ability to get valuable benefits, including healthcare. And it means that their committed relationships are no longer ignored by their employer.

That’s important to people like Tracy Johnson. She is a North Carolina National Guard member. Her wife, Donna, died in Afghanistan last year, but because the military didn’t recognize same-sex marriages, she was treated virtually as a stranger.

"I wasn't notified first. And I wasn't sure I was going to be notified, because I understood the situation as it was," she said. 

Johnson said she wasn't even given her wife's wedding ring by the military at first. 

"Because we weren't recognized, that was given to her next of kin,” she said. “Officially, it had to be turned over to her next of kin."

Eventually, her mother in law gave her the ring.

All these problems should change now thanks to President Obama, but his order may not apply to all National Guard services. Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi claim it doesn’t. They say the National Guard is a joint operation between the state and the federal government. And those states have bans on same sex marriage. So National Guard officials in those states say they won’t recognize gay couples’ status.

Michael Biesecker, an Associated Press reporter, said the order by President Obama entered a grey zone when it came to the National Guard.

"It put the National Guards in each of the 50 states in the position of were they going to recognize that order in the light of their state laws?" he said.

Chris Rowzee, National Guard liaison for the American Military Partner Association, said that argument doesn't hold water.

"Their equipment, their personnel, their supplies are all federally funded." she said. "These are not state employees, they are federal employees."

Here in North Carolina, the National Guard will extend benefits to same-sex partners. This is despite the fact that North Carolina itself has a ban on gay marriage.

The audio for this segment will be up by 3 p.m.

Alex Granados joined The State of Things in July 2010. He got his start in radio as an intern for the show in 2005 and loved it so much that after trying his hand as a government reporter, reader liaison, features, copy and editorial page editor at a small newspaper in Manassas, Virginia, he returned to WUNC. Born in Baltimore but raised in Morgantown, West Virginia, Alex moved to Raleigh in time to do third grade twice and adjust to public school after having spent years in the sheltered confines of a Christian elementary education. Alex received a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also has a minor in philosophy, which basically means that he used to think he was really smart but realized he wasn’t in time to switch majors. Fishing, reading science fiction, watching crazy movies, writing bad short stories, and shooting pool are some of his favorite things to do. Alex still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, but he is holding out for astronaut.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.