WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Several Republican-led US states on Friday rejected Pentagon demands that their state militias issue identity cards to same-sex spouses and accused the Obama administration of using the military as a pawn in its bid to force social change.
The resistance put the Pentagon on a collision course with states that have rejected a Defence Department request, first issued in September, for identity cards to be issued to same-sex spouses so they can begin receiving benefits due to married couples.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, the Republican head of the National Governors Association, called on President Barack Obama and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel to "stop using the National Guard as a pawn in a larger social agenda", her spokesman, Mr Alex Weintz, said in a statement on Friday.
"The President has made it clear he supports gay marriage. He has the legal authority to order federal agencies to recognise gay marriages. He does not have the legal authority to force state agencies to do so, or to unilaterally rewrite state laws or state constitutions," Mr Weintz said.
Mr Josh Havens, a spokesman for Texas Governor Rick Perry, said: "Texas Military Forces is a state agency, and as such is obligated to adhere to the Texas Constitution and the laws of this state which clearly define marriage as between one man and one woman."
Their comments came after Mr Hagel criticised the states on Thursday for refusing to let their militias issue the identity cards, forcing same-sex spouses to make a sometimes lengthy journey to a federal base to obtain the cards and obstructing their efforts to get federal benefits.
"This is wrong. It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD (Defence Department) has fought to extinguish," Mr Hagel said in a speech in New York. He ordered the head of the National Guard to resolve the matter with the leaders of the state militias.
A senior defence official on Thursday identified seven other states refusing to comply: Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and West Virginia. Indiana notified the Pentagon on Friday it had begun issuing the cards after a month-long review, a move defence officials said they welcomed.
Pentagon officials were assessing their options in dealing with the states if they continue a course of action that Mr Hagel said violated their obligations under federal law and "created hardship and inequality" for military service members.
A source familiar with the issue said the department had steps it could take to bring pressure on states that fail to comply, such as removing the identity card machines from all National Guard facilities, which would force all service spouses to travel to federal facilities for their cards.
The department also could cut federal funding for National Guard projects that mainly assist the states, or it could give the resistant states a lower priority for receiving supplies and equipment, the source said.