Local/Regional News
9:39 pm
Sat November 16, 2013

Ky. Guard Allowing Benefits For Same-Sex Marriages

Gov. Beshear has accepted a recommendation to allow spouses of gay National Guard members to apply for federal marriage benefits.

Kentucky Adjutant General Edward Tonini recommended the state follow Defense Department policy and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, despite Kentucky's ban on gay marriages, The Courier-Journal reported. Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said the governor affirmed the recommendation.

"They're service members applying for benefits, so we give them to them," said Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht, a Guard spokesman

Since the benefits became available in September, four have received them in Kentucky, the Louisville newspaper reported.

The Defense Department policy says gay spouses should be given the same federal benefits as heterosexuals.

The directive from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel came after the Supreme Court struck down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Beshear's decision is being applauded by gay-rights activists.

"We're proud Gov. Beshear has affirmed our state's responsibility to service members and their spouses," said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, which supports gay rights.

Stephen Peters II, president of the Washington-based American Military Partner Association, a support group for gays in the military, said that since the benefits are paid with federal funds, Beshear made the right decision - and the legally correct one

Supporters of Kentucky's ban on gay marriages are denouncing the decision.

State Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, who sponsored the amendment that voters passed in 2004, said those serving in the armed forced deserve to be honored and respected for putting "their lives on the line to protect the values upon which this great country was founded."

But he said those values include "the institution of marriage, ordained by God, as being between one man and one woman ... and to the extent policies of politically correct bureaucrats in the Pentagon conflict with state law, I believe that the governor has a duty to enforce the laws of the commonwealth, including the marriage amendment to the Kentucky constitution."

For Chris Rowzee and her spouse, Master Sgt. Novia Engelhardt, who works full time for the Kentucky Air National Guard in Louisville, the benefits provide savings of about $1,600 a month for the couple and their 18-month-old son, C.J. Rowzee.

Chris Rowzee said she and the baby are now covered by her spouse's military health insurance plan, and they get a housing allowance for a family.

But she said the intangible benefits are just as good. She said she "now feels like part of the military family" because she is eligible for support that helps military spouses cope during deployments.

Rowzee and her partner lived together for 12 years before they married in Washington on Sept. 1, then applied for benefits two days later on the first day it was allowed. She said the couple have received "nothing but positive response from her unit and leadership."