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DOJ: Same-sex spouses of veterans will have benefits
From press releases
2013-09-04

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From the White House Office of Communications

WASHINGTON — In 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, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday that President Obama has directed the Executive Branch to take steps allowing for same-sex spouses of military veterans to collect federal benefits.

The new policy means that the administration will no longer enforce statutory language governing the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) that restricts the awarding of spousal benefits to opposite-sex marriages only. The language, contained within Title 38 of the U.S. Code, has, until now, prevented the Executive Branch from providing spousal benefits to veterans—and in some instances active-duty service members and reservists—who are in same-sex marriages recognized under state law.

In a letter to Congressional leaders, Holder stated that the President's decision was consistent with the Court's decision in Windsor in June.

"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 decision not to enforce Title 38 aligns with the Obama administration's determination last year that two provisions of Title 38 that govern benefits for veterans and their families were unconstitutional as applied to legally married same-sex couples. At that time, the Attorney General informed Congress that the Department would no longer defend the Title 38 provisions, but that the Executive Branch would continue to enforce them. Today's announcement makes clear that enforcement of the provision in Title 38 defining marriage as between a man and a woman will now cease.

The announcement comes after the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) recently decided to stop defending the Title 38 provisions in pending cases. In addition, last week, a federal district court in California held the Title 38 provisions unconstitutional on equal protection grounds. After consideration of these developments and a recommendation by the Attorney General, the President directed the Executive Branch to cease enforcement of the Title 38 provisions.

A copy of the letter from the Attorney General to Congressional leaders is at www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/AG+Title+38+Letter+to+Congress+9-4-13.pdf .

Lambda Legal on Veterans benefits becoming available for some married same-sex couples:

"This is a major step to open benefits for veterans and their families."

(New York, September 4, 2013) - Lambda Legal issued the following statement by Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation:

"The announcement that the Executive Branch will no longer enforce the so-called mini-DOMA within the statute governing veteran's benefits is great news for veterans and their same-sex spouses.

"This is a major step to open benefits for veterans and their families, and we look forward to the Administration's quick implementation of its decision so that these families can receive critical protections. We will continue our advocacy to work towards a national solution that applies to veterans no matter where they live.

"These are important benefits so making sure that all married veterans and their families can access them is the ultimate goal."

To read the announcement from the Department of Justice visit: www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/September/13-ag-991.html .

From The American Military Partner Association:

WASHINGTON, DC - The American Military Partner Association (AMPA), the nation's premier resource and support network for LGBT military families, released the following statement today in response to the decision by the Obama administration to stop enforcement of the provision in Title 38 defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

"No longer will Tracy Johnson, the surviving spouse of Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson who was killed in Afghanistan, be treated as if she doesn't matter by the Department of Veterans Affairs," said Stephen Peters, president of AMPA. "All of our veteran military families will finally be recognized and supported for their service to our nation."

For more information about the American Military Partner Association and LGBT military families, please visit our home on the web atwww.MilitaryPartners.org .

The American Military Partner Association (AMPA), a non-partisan and non-profit 501(c)3 organization based in Washington DC, is the nation's premier resource and support network for LGBT military families.

ACLU responds:

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice announced today it will no longer enforce language in Title 38 of the U.S. code that restricted the awarding of spousal veterans benefits to opposite-sex marriages only. This will allow for legally married gay and lesbian spouses of military veterans to collect the same federal benefits that opposite-sex couples are entitled to.

"The continued unwinding of discrimination against legally married couples in the aftermath of the Windsor decision is a welcome development," said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "The federal government is right to ensure that legally married couples, where a spouse has served valiantly in the military, are treated equally. Federal protections that come with marriage should apply to all who are married."


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