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When the Defense Department earlier this month ordered military bases to issue dependent identification cards to same-sex spouses of military service members, officials at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico quickly realized they had a unique situation on their hands.
How should they handle same-sex couples with marriage licenses from New Mexico, where laws do not address same-sex marriage but where a county clerk decided to issue licenses on his own initiative last month?
New Mexico’s laws neither permit nor prohibit county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In August, the Associated Press reported, a clerk in Dona Ana County started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Before long, the AP said, a judge in Santa Fe ruled that a second county should also grant same-sex marriage licenses, and then a state judge ruled that New Mexico’s law prohibited discrimination and ordered a third county to grant licenses.
During the week of Sept. 2, said Kirtland spokesman John Cochran, base officials recognized that Defense’s guidance did not specifically address New Mexico’s situation, and asked the Air Force Personnel Center for clarification on same-sex couples with marriage licenses from those New Mexico counties. AFPC cleared Kirtland to issue ID cards to same-sex couples who could provide a valid marriage license from one of the New Mexico counties that are issuing them. Kirtland began issuing ID cards to those same-sex spouses Sept. 6.
The American Military Partner Association, an organization that advocates for same-sex military families, said that some same-sex military spouses at Kirtland were turned away when they requested ID cards while Kirtland was waiting for clarification. Cochran said Kirtland could not say how many same-sex spouses were denied ID cards until the policy was clarified. He also said the base’s data on ID card issuance does not break out same-sex and opposite-sex spouses.
“We strive to ensure all our airmen receive the benefits they and their families are entitled to in a timely manner,” Cochran said.
AMPA President Stephen Peters lauded Kirtland and its installation commander, Col. Tom Miller, for moving quickly to get affected spouses their ID cards.
“The [Kirtland-based] 377th Air Base Wing and ... Miller did an outstanding job of quickly correcting the situation,” Peters said in a Sept. 10 release. “We look forward to the day when the entire state of New Mexico and every state of our union grants marriage equality and recognizes the right of all of our citizens to have equal protection and benefits that come with marriage.”
Miller was unavailable for comment.