Spousal Benefits Now Await Gay Veterans, Obama Says
WASHINGTON (CN) - The White House has begun the process of letting the same-sex spouses of military veterans collect federal benefits, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday.
President Barack Obama's new policy represents a departure from the statutory language within Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which governs the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense.
That language describes opposite-sex marriages only as being eligible for spousal benefits. Though there are some active-duty service members and reservists in same-sex marriages recognized by state law, the law has prevented the Executive Branch from providing them with spousal benefits.
The Justice Department noted that the departure is "the Obama administration's latest step to ensure equal treatment for same-sex married couples following the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act."
Attorney General Holder announced the move in a letter to John Boehner, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and emphasized its consistency with United States v. Windsor .
"Although the Supreme Court did not directly address the constitutionality of the Title 38 provisions in Windsor, the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment," Holder wrote.
The Justice Department likewise highlighted that the announcement came after the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) decided to stop defending the Title 38 provisions in pending cases.
A federal judge in California last week additionally held the Title 38 provisions unconstitutional on equal protection grounds.
Holder's letter also marks an additional step from one the Obama administration took in 2012 when it informed Congress that the Justice Department would no longer defend the Title 38 provisions, but that the Executive Branch would continue to enforce them.
The Obama administration had found then that two provisions of Title 38 that govern benefits for veterans and their families were unconstitutional as applied to legally married same-sex couples.