Seven soldiers and airmen in Nebraska and Iowa signed up same-sex husbands or wives for military ID cards last week, according to reports from local military commands.
Sept. 3 was the first day that military service members could sign up same-sex spouses for the ID cards, which allow access to bases and many military services.
Three were registered at Offutt Air Force Base, three at Nebraska National Guard posts and one at an Iowa National Guard facility, spokesmen for those commands said.
The change comes more than two months after a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred federal agencies from recognizing same-sex marriages.
And it has been nearly two years since the Defense Department ended the “don't ask, don't tell” policy, which prevented homosexual service members from serving openly.
Issuance of the ID cards had been delayed because software for the Defense Enrollment and Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) — the Pentagon's universal ID network — needed to be upgraded to accept spouses of the same gender, said Col. Greg Hapgood, a spokesman for the Iowa National Guard.
“There was no way to put the information into the system until last week,” Hapgood said. “We just had to tell people to be patient.”
Delanie Stafford, a spokesman for the Offutt-based 55th Wing, said the service member — called a “sponsor” by the military — may obtain an ID card for a spouse by presenting a marriage certificate along with the spouse's birth certificate, Social Security card and valid ID.
“It's basically the same as registering any other spouse,” he said.
The ID card also gives spouses the right to shop at base commissaries and exchanges, which offer groceries and consumer goods at reduced prices and tax-free.
Other benefits include military medical care, a housing allowance and family separation pay. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said all three will be retroactive to June 26, the date of the Supreme Court's decision on DOMA.
Capt. Evaine Mansfield of Bellevue said the intangible benefits of the military's recognition of her wife, Elissa, matter a lot more than the few hundred dollars more in her monthly housing allotment.
The couple have been through multiple deployments during their four years together. They were married this summer in California, Mansfield's home state, and obtained Elissa's DEERS card Monday.
“The biggest benefit, emotionally, is to have her able to be there when I come home from deployment,” said Mansfield, 32, who is an RC-135 training pilot.
Until now, Elissa couldn't pass through the gates at Offutt without a military escort.
During one of Mansfield's deployments, Elissa broke her ankle. From overseas, Mansfield tried to arrange medical and logistical help — without telling anyone in her military command.
“If I had told my squadron commander two years ago about this, the Air Force would have started proceedings to kick me out,” she said.
Now they can attend couples retreats and take their two children, from Elissa's prior marriage, to tae kwon do classes and outdoor recreation events on base.
“I feel like the military does a really good job supporting spouses,” Mansfield said. “But there wasn't the infrastructure in place for (same-sex) partners.”
A few wrinkles must still be worked out, at least for National Guard soldiers and airmen, because of their dual service to both the federal and state government. The same-sex spouses of guardsmen who are called into federal service will be entitled to ID cards and other privileges. But those called up to help during a local disaster, for example, may not be entitled if their state refuses to recognize same-sex marriages.
Of the 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia with National Guard units, all but three began issuing the ID cards last week, according to a statement from the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va.
In Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, National Guard offices have said they would not issue the cards to same-sex spouses, citing state provisions forbidding it.
In those states, service members have been referred instead to nearby U.S. military bases. Federal employees aren't subject to the state restrictions.