Military same-sex couple benefits in limbo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Because Florida defines marriage as a one man, one woman union, same-sex National Guard couples may have to go to federal military bases if they want to take advantage of a court ruling allowing them to receive benefits like other married couples.

Florida is continuing to stall when asked if the state would honor the court's ruling.

The state is unsure on how to process benefit requests on state property after the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down earlier this year.

"It's like anything else. If it's civil rights, the only way you get it is to keep banging on the wall and it eventually comes down," said Ron Bunting, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocate.

Earlier this month, federal military bases were required to allow married same-sex couples to register for benefits. At the beginning of September, the Florida National Guard sent a letter requesting the guidance of Attorney General Pam Bondi's office on the subject.

Her response was a letter saying the state cannot provide a legal opinion because of insufficient information. The letter goes on to say the National Guard fails to indicate the course of action the department will take if a same-sex married couple applies for benefits.

Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi have similar same-sex marriage laws. Those three states have already refused to allow married same-sex couples to apply for benefits at National Guard posts.

LGBT advocates say they are hopeful the state will allow same-sex couples to get benefits at the National Guard posts.

"There's court battles popping up all over the country, obviously," said Jim VanRiper, of Equality Florida. "Fortunately, 47 states have said you know they'll honor (the Department of Defense's) decision to respect those couples in the military."

For the time being, the Florida National Guard is advising same-sex couples to submit their benefit applications at federal facilities managed by federal employees.

Neither Bondi's office nor the Florida National Guard made itself available for an interview.