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By Rudolph Bell, Greenville News

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham says he stands by South Carolina's right to define marriage as heterosexual only and resist a Pentagon order to facilitate benefits for same-sex couples at all of its National Guard facilities.

"I will support my state's ability to define marriage between a man and a woman, the right to do that," Graham said in Greenville Friday.

"I don't know how this ends in terms of the National Guard, but to the extent that the federal government is trying to impose upon South Carolina the recognition of same-sex marriage, I stand by my state."

Graham, a colonel in the Air Force Reserves and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was reacting to remarks Thursday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Hagel criticized South Carolina and eight other states who have refused to issue ID cards at state-controlled Guard facilities that are needed for same-sex spouses of military members to claim benefits.

Hagel said he's ordered the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, to "take immediate action to remedy this situation," The Associated Press reported.

Hagel said adjutants general from nine states where the ID cards are being denied at state facilities "will be expected to comply" with a Pentagon directive ordering the military to provide benefits to same-sex couples. The directive was issued this fall following a U.S. Supreme Court decision interpreting the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In South Carolina, State Adjutant General Robert Livingston has said he would move the ID card issuing process for same-sex couples from state-controlled Guard facilities to nationally controlled facilities so as not to conflict with state law that recognizes marriage as between a man and a woman only.

South Carolina voters in 2006 overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman only. Another state law from 1996 prohibits same-sex marriage.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who was with Graham to dedicate a Veterans Administration clinic off of Grove Road, said he couldn't comment on Hagel's remarks because he hadn't heard them.

The Pentagon lists nine states that are resisting the policy, according to The Associated Press. In addition to South Carolina, they are Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.

Graham was a member of the South Carolina Air National Guard after leaving active duty in the Air Force in 1989, according to his official biography.

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