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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several Republican-led U.S. 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 Defense 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 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to "stop using the National Guard as a pawn in a larger social agenda," her spokesman, 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 recognize 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," Weintz said.
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 Hagel criticized the states on Thursday for refusing to let their militias issue the identity cards, thereby 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 (Defense Department) has fought to extinguish," 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 defense 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 defense officials said they welcomed.
Pentagon officials were assessing their options in dealing with the states if they continue a course of action that 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.
Hagel said on Thursday he had directed the head of the National Guard, General Frank Grass, to meet with the adjutants general from the states and notify them they would "be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy."
The Pentagon abandoned its "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military in September 2011.
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26 this year, the department began issuing identity cards to ensure the same-sex spouses would receive the benefits to which they were entitled.
Before the first cards were provided in September, Texas announced it would not issue the cards at National Guard facilities.
The Louisiana National Guard said it was barred by state law from issuing the cards. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Mazmierzak, a spokesman for the state guard, said Louisiana's constitution "does not recognize same-sex marriage, nor does it allow a state official to take part in an act that recognizes same-sex marriage."
Reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City, Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas, Kathy Finn in New Orleans and Susan Guyett in Indianapolis; Editing by Peter Cooney