When the United States Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, it opened a lot of doors for gay couples.
In its wake, President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to remove all roadblocks to the recognition of same-sex marriage. That has a big impact on couples’ ability to get valuable benefits, including healthcare. And it means that their committed relationships are no longer ignored by their employer.
That’s important to people like Tracy Johnson. She is a North Carolina National Guard member. Her wife, Donna, died in Afghanistan last year, but because the military didn’t recognize same-sex marriages, she was treated virtually as a stranger.
"I wasn't notified first. And I wasn't sure I was going to be notified, because I understood the situation as it was," she said.
Johnson said she wasn't even given her wife's wedding ring by the military at first.
"Because we weren't recognized, that was given to her next of kin,” she said. “Officially, it had to be turned over to her next of kin."
Eventually, her mother in law gave her the ring.
All these problems should change now thanks to President Obama, but his order may not apply to all National Guard services. Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi claim it doesn’t. They say the National Guard is a joint operation between the state and the federal government. And those states have bans on same sex marriage. So National Guard officials in those states say they won’t recognize gay couples’ status.
Michael Biesecker, an Associated Press reporter, said the order by President Obama entered a grey zone when it came to the National Guard.
"It put the National Guards in each of the 50 states in the position of were they going to recognize that order in the light of their state laws?" he said.
Chris Rowzee, National Guard liaison for the American Military Partner Association, said that argument doesn't hold water.
"Their equipment, their personnel, their supplies are all federally funded." she said. "These are not state employees, they are federal employees."
Here in North Carolina, the National Guard will extend benefits to same-sex partners. This is despite the fact that North Carolina itself has a ban on gay marriage.
The audio for this segment will be up by 3 p.m.