Obama administration to extend veterans' benefits to married gays

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 4, 2013 5:14pm EDT

Two men, both wearing signs that read ''he's the groom'', hold hands shortly after midnight after getting a civil union when Colorado's civil union law went into effect in Denver May 1, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Two men, both wearing signs that read ''he's the groom'', hold hands shortly after midnight after getting a civil union when Colorado's civil union law went into effect in Denver May 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration will allow same-sex spouses of veterans to receive federal benefits currently only available to heterosexual married couples, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to members of Congress on Wednesday.

The decision comes just over two months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married gay and lesbian couples.

The announcement, which will make the same-sex spouses of veterans eligible for various benefits, including healthcare and survivor benefits, was welcomed by gay rights advocates.

"The Obama administration is doing right by our veterans and faithfully executing the Supreme Court's opinion," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, a group that represents veterans' interests, said his hope is the department "moves quickly to implement this change and begins paying veterans and eligible survivors promptly."

A Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Wednesday's announcement was the latest by the Obama administration on recognition of same-sex marriage following the Supreme Court decision in June to invalidate the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA. Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department said the Internal Revenue Service would recognize legally married same-sex couples for federal tax purposes.

Separately, the Department of Homeland Security has said that same-sex marriages will be treated the same as opposite sex marriages in the immigration law context.

In Wednesday's letter to various members of Congress, including Representative John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, Holder notified them of the decision not to enforce the provision of federal law that limits the definition of a veteran's spouse to a member of the opposite sex. The law is separate to DOMA and therefore was not directly affected by the Supreme Court ruling.

Holder said that although the Supreme Court did not address the veterans' benefits law in the DOMA ruling, "the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional."

A legal group that represented House Republicans, including Boehner, who supported DOMA had already said that, as a result of the high court ruling, it would no longer defend the veterans' benefits law, which has been challenged in court by same-sex couples. A spokesman for Boehner did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Last week, a federal judge in California said the law was unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court ruling.

The Justice Department has said since 2012 it would not defend the law but this was the first time it said it would no longer enforce the law.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Kim Dixon.; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (9)
cbj wrote:
I can’t be the only one who sees Mr. Obamas involvement in the gay issue as political pandering. Wasn’t he first against it? Then he had a change of heart. Did the angels sing?
I will be upfront and state that I am indeed a cynic but this pandering is just so obvious.
In my opinion benefits should be given to those who have earned them irrespective of sexual orientation. Gays should have every right that straights do. My issue is not in the extending VA benefits to gays but to spouses in general.

Sep 04, 2013 3:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
cbj: Yes, that’s why its called “politics”. As more and more young people agree with what Obama is doing, they see the Democratic party as being more progressive on ideas they agree with compared to the Republican party, which tends to be looked upon as out of touch, intolerant and generate more negative ratings amongst younger voters.

The other point is now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled DOMA fundamentally discriminates against people on the basis of their orientation, there is no further reason for the U.S. Federal government to continue that discrimnation.

Sep 04, 2013 4:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
kiwibird wrote:
If someone has died in service to their country it is the least a government can do is to assist the partner who has obviously supported the one who died.

Sep 04, 2013 4:58pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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