Florida attorney general doesn’t answer National Guard question about gay-spouse benefits

The office of Florida’s attorney general has declined to offer an opinion on whether the Florida National Guard can process benefits enrollment for the spouses of gay troops on state property.

Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr., Florida’s adjutant general, wrote Attorney General Pam Bondi seeking the opinion on Sept. 6, essentially asking whether processing gay Guard members’ spouses for benefits would conflict with the state’s constitution, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Friday, Gerry Hammond, senior assistant attorney general, wrote Titshaw that his request for an opinion “provided insufficient information about the connection between the newly announced policy of the United States Secretary of Defense and your official duties as the head of the Florida Department of Military Affairs.”

At issue is a Pentagon policy change that, starting Sept. 3, extended health and housing allowance benefits to gay spouses who “provide a valid marriage certificate.” Titshaw sought guidance on whether Florida Guard members could enroll legal, gay spouses on state property.

Hammond said Titshaw needs to conduct his own analysis first and then spell out for the attorney general’s office “the actions the new federal policy requires of” the Florida National Guard as well as “how any obligations imposed on you by the federal government might conflict with your duties under state law.”

The National Guard headquarters in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana have refused to enroll same-sex spouses, saying that is the obligation of the federal government because those states, like Florida, do not recognize gay marriage.

Meantime, while Florida decides, the state is advising that gay spouses can sign up at federally controlled military bases in the state — such as the U.S. Southern Command in Doral or the U.S. Naval Air Station in Key West.

None have asked at state headquarters, said Air Force Lt. Col. James Evans, a spokesman for the Florida Guard.

“The Florida National Guard is required to accept and process same-sex benefit applications at any federal facility managed by federal employees,” Evan said Sunday. “In a state facility, we are standing by for state legal guidance. We are coordinating with the attorney general’s office to provide required documentation to facilitate the legal review.”