Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gay Military Spouses to Receive Benefits

Courtesy Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has cleared the way for the spouses of gay veterans to receive military benefits, with the Justice Department declaring it will no longer enforce a provision of the law that states only heterosexual married couples are eligible.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a Wednesday letter to congressional leaders that the Justice Department had determined the Supreme Court’s rationale in a decision overturning part of the Defense of Marriage Act should also apply to Title 38, the part of the U.S. code that governs veterans' benefits. Title 38 currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman, meaning that only heterosexual spouses receive the benefits, which include health care, disability and survival benefits and burials in national cemeteries. 

Holder said last year that the Justice Department would no longer defend Title 38 in court. But Wednesday’s announcement went even further, with DOJ finding that the legal basis laid out by the Supreme Court in the DOMA decision should nullify the marriage definition in the provision. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said just last week that the spouses of gay veterans weren’t eligible for benefits because no court had found Title 38’s definitions to be unconstitutional.

“Decisions by the Executive Branch not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare,” Holder wrote in the letter, adding that in this case it was appropriate given that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives had withdrawn from pending litigation challenging the constitutionality of Title 38's constitutionality.

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