(Reuters) - All U.S. states are now issuing military identification cards to the same-sex spouses of National Guard members, allowing them to obtain benefits available to married couples, the Defense Department said on Friday.
Mississippi was the last state to comply with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's directive this fall for state military units to provide the cards to gay and lesbian spouses so they can claim benefits just like opposite-sex spouses.
"All military spouses and families sacrifice on behalf of our country," Hagel said on Friday. "They deserve our respect and the benefits they are entitled to under the law."
Obtaining a military ID card allows spouses to use military commissaries and to be included on health insurance plans offered by the National Guard.
Hagel in October criticized nine states that he said had refused to comply with his directive. Several Republican-led states responded by accusing the Obama administration of using the military to force social change.
The nine states have chosen different ways to comply with both Hagel's directive and state prohibitions against same-sex marriage.
In Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, workers who issue ID cards to same-sex spouses will be put on temporary active duty, giving them federal status.
Florida, Oklahoma and South Carolina relocated card machines to federal installations in those states, while Indiana and West Virginia will process the cards at all National Guard locations in those states, according to the Defense Department.
The department began issuing ID cards to ensure same-sex spouses received the benefits to which they were entitled after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26.
Gays and lesbians have been allowed to serve openly in the military since the Pentagon dropped its "don't ask, don't tell" policy in September 2011.
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Scott Malone and John Wallace)