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Pentagon chief criticizes states over ID cards for same-sex couples

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticized nine U.S. states on Thursday for refusing to issue identity cards to same-sex spouses and said he expected the adjutants general for the state militias to comply with lawful directions and Pentagon policy.

Hagel, in remarks prepared for delivery to a Jewish rights group in New York, also announced the United States has agreed to sell Israel six vertical liftoff V-22 Osprey aircraft - the first U.S. ally to receive the plane.

Hagel said the Defense Department moved to begin issuing identity cards to the spouses in same-sex couples following a Supreme Court ruling this year that cleared the way for them to receive the same work-related benefits given to heterosexual couples.

"Several states are refusing to issue these IDs to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities," Hagel told the Anti-Defamation League. "Not only does this violate the states' obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality."

Refusal to issue the cards at state militia facilities means couples may have to travel long distances to federal bases to obtain the cards there, Hagel told the centennial dinner of the Anti-Defamation League.

"This is wrong. It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD (Defense Department) has fought to extinguish," Hagel told the group in remarks honoring his predecessor, Leon Panetta.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded Hagel's remarks, saying he made "clear that this resistance to the equal treatment of all married military couples is not only grossly unfair, but also a violation of federal law."

The Pentagon abandoned its "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military during Panetta's tenure as defense secretary.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26, the department began issuing identity cards to ensure the spouses in same-sex couples would receive the benefits to which they were entitled.

Before the first cards were issued in September, the state of Texas announced it would not issue the cards at National Guard facilities.

Eight other states have taken similar stances in recent weeks, a senior defense official said: Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia. Across the nine states, 114 Army and Air National Guard sites are not providing cards, the official said.

Hagel told the Anti-Defamation League he had directed General Frank Grass, the National Guard chief, to meet with adjutants general from the nine states to deal with the issue.

"The adjutants general will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD (Defense Department) policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions," Hagel said.

'QUALITATIVE MILITARY EDGE'

Hagel said the agreement to sell Israel six of the tilt-rotor V-22s, built by Bell Helicopter and Boeing, would "greatly enhance the range and effectiveness of the Israeli special forces."

"I have directed the Marine Corps to make sure this order is expedited," he said.

During his first visit to the Middle East as defense secretary earlier this year, Hagel announced $10 billion in arms sales to Middle East allies, including 25 F-16 Fighting Falcon weapons for the United Arab Emirates as well as other precision arms for the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, Hagel said the United States, which has a policy of maintaining Israel's "qualitative military edge," had decided to offer Israel the V-22 aircraft as well as the KC-135 refueling airplane.

After its annual budget review earlier this week, Israel sent the Defense Department an official request for six V-22 Ospreys, a senior defense official said.

(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Ken Wills and Lisa Shumaker)

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