Republican Governor Denies Benefits to All Soldiers Just to Discriminate Against Gay Ones

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Nov. 20 2013 11:39 AM

Republican Governor Denies Benefits to All Soldiers to Discriminate Against Gay Ones

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.
Constitution, schmonstitution: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.

Photo by Sue Ogrocki-Pool/Getty Images

When Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin was sworn into office, she promised in her oath to “offend the Constitution of the United States.” Many at the time assumed it was a blunder. But as it turns out, Gov. Fallin is true to her word.

In September, Fallin vowed to prohibit Oklahoma’s National Guard from providing benefits to married same-sex couples, directly violating a Pentagon directive and a presidential decree. Now, after a Pentagon pushback, Fallin has doubled down, cutting spousal benefits for the entire Oklahoma National Guard, including straight couples. The Republican governor, in other words, would rather deny every soldier benefits than grant a few gay ones the rights they have been federally guaranteed. Her painfully mangled logic:

Oklahoma law is clear. The state of Oklahoma does not recognize same-sex marriages, nor does it confer marriage benefits to same-sex couples. The decision reached today allows the National Guard to obey Oklahoma law without violating federal rules or policies. It protects the integrity of our state constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people.
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Not to harp on the point, but this notion is so deliriously erroneous, so undeniably and doltishly wrong, that I can’t quite believe Fallin believes it herself. The military’s policy of providing spousal benefits to same-sex couples is not a gentle suggestion. It is a federal mandate, prompted by the president himself, extending from the Pentagon to each (federally funded, federally supervised) National Guard base. It doesn’t matter whether the policy violates Oklahoma’s constitution: The Constitution of the United States declares in Article VI that “the laws of the United States ... shall be the supreme law of the land,” regardless of “the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary.” By presidential decree, the laws of the United States now require spousal benefits for gay soldiers; following that order is a constitutional requirement. And the federal constitution is not something a state governor can simply toss aside when it doesn’t suit her viciously homophobic beliefs.

Fallin, however, isn’t alone in her crusade of unconstitutional bigotry. Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia have all resisted the new policy as well, citing similar (and similarly fatuous) concerns about their anti-gay state constitutions. I’m not sure what these states’ excuse is—aside from virulent, unpatriotic prejudice—but at least Oklahoma has a defense to fall back on. The state elected a governor who, on her very first day in office, swore “to offend” the United States constitution. We can fault Fallin for many things. But we certainly can’t accuse her of going back on her word.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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