Georgia National Guard begins to process benefits for same-sex m - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Georgia National Guard begins to process benefits for same-sex married couples

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

A compromise reached between the state of Georgia and the Department of Defense will now allow same-sex spouses serving in the Georgia National Guard to get full military benefits.

Georgia is the second-to-last state to give these health, dental, and other benefits to same-sex married couples in the National Guard. This comes after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

Pastors Candace Hardnett and Erika Majors of Agape Empowerment Ministries said this is long overdue. The couple has been together the past six years.

They are not married, but Pastor Hardnett served as an active duty Marine from 2003-2008, and said at times, she felt isolated from her peers.

"As a lesbian, as a woman, as an African-American woman lesbian, you have to push harder, you have to do more," she said.

Up until December, married couples serving in the Georgia National Guard were not allowed access to military benefits, despite this being a requirement by the Pentagon.

Lt. Col. Thomas Lesnieski with the National Guard said this was because the Georgia State Constitution does not recognize same-sex marriages.

This created a tricky situation which was eventually resolved by the decision that those same-sex benefits will be processed at the Federal National Guard facilities in Georgia, therefore the state constitution won't be broken.

Pastor Hardnett said the decision is bittersweet.

"It is a step forward, but not really in the sense that Georgia is sending a really loud message that we don't support you. We don't care," she said.

She said she doesn't think this will even be a topic of discussion in the next 30 or 40 years.

Lt. Col. Lesnieski said he is glad to see equal benefits for all who serve, and at the end of the day, Pastor Hardnett said it's all about the military families.

"Let's think about those kids who have two moms or dads who need these benefits."

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