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Are The Feds Recognizing Same-Sex Marriage in NM?

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Wednesday Sep 11, 2013

A new report from BuzzFeeds finds that at least one Air Force base in New Mexico is recognizing same-sex marriages in the state, even though New Mexico's Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether or not gay marriage should be legal.

BuzzFeed reports that a spouse of a military member stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., said the couple married in New Mexico last month and that she now has a spousal ID card at the base. A Pentagon official would not confirm if there has been a change in its policy, however.

"The Department will make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, as long as service member-sponsors provide a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage. I would refer you to the state of New Mexico who can discuss the specifics of their state law," Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the Pentagon, told BuzzFeed when asked to confirm if there has been a change in policy.

The president of the American Military Partner Association has called out the Pentagon's reluctance to explain the policy. Stephen Peters told BuzzFeed that he finds it "very strange" that the Department of Defense won't confirm whether or not military bases can recognize same-sex marriages.

As of Sept. 4, eight out of the 33 counties in New Mexico are currently issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Though the state's high court previously refused to hear arguments on the issue, saying that the lower courts should decide, it was announced last week that the court will hear a case on marriage equality on Oct. 23. If the justices side with gay rights supporters, same-sex marriage could be legal throughout the state.

BuzzFeed reports that at least one same-sex couple’s marriage has been recognized under the Pentagon’s policy, which began Sept. 3 and allows married same-sex partners of service members to receive spousal military ID cards. Those cards give the spouse access to a number of benefits the military provides.

Courtney Schmeling told BuzzFeed that officials from Kirtland Air Force Base initially told her they could not recognize her marriage between her and her wife, Sr. Airman Natalie Throckmorton, because it took place in New Mexico and is not one of the 13 states that recognizes marriage equality.

"They said that we would have to get a marriage license from another state," Schmeling said. But last week, Schmeling says that the base officials changed their mind and said that her marriage would be recognized. On Tuesday she picked up her spousal ID card.

"The 377th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Kirtland Air Force Base, Colonel Tom Miller, did an outstanding job of quickly correcting the situation when same-gender military spouses were turned away from enrollment for military benefits because they had a marriage license from the state of New Mexico," the American Military Partner Association said.

The AMPA also provided BuzzFeed with an email from Meredith Mingledorff, a spokeswoman at Kirtland Air Force Base, which says that decision to recognize the same-sex marriage came outside the base.

"Effective Sept. 3, the Secretary of Defense announced that all military departments will extend benefits to same-sex spouses of military members and retirees," the email reads. "On Sept. 5, military members and their same-sex spouses came into the 377th Force Support Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base with marriage certificates issued in New Mexico.

"Because civil authorities in New Mexico have only recently begun to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the guidance in hand for Department of Defense identification cards didn’t address jurisdictions in New Mexico," Mingledorff wrote. "The issue of those ID cards was delayed while Air Force officials sought clarification."


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