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Same-sex spouses can collect veterans' benefits

President Obama goes beyond the Supreme Court's Defense of Marriage Act ruling, directing the government to stop enforcing provisions that withheld spousal benefits from legally married gay veterans.

September 04, 2013|By Becca Clemons
  • A soldier and his partner get married in June at San Francisco City Hall. The Obama administration will allow same-sex spouses to get federal veterans' benefits.
A soldier and his partner get married in June at San Francisco City Hall.… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

WASHINGTON — Spouses of veterans in same-sex marriages will be allowed to collect federal benefits, the Obama administration announced Wednesday in a move following the Supreme Court decision that struck down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act in June.

President Obama directed the executive branch to stop enforcing two provisions that restricted the U.S. from awarding spousal benefits to veterans in legal gay marriages. The provisions define "spouse" as a "person of the opposite sex," Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. wrote Wednesday in a letter to Congress, adding that the Supreme Court's decision in United States vs. Windsor "strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the 5th Amendment."

The Obama administration has made a series of policy decisions since the Windsor decision to extend federal benefits to legally married gay couples. Wednesday's announcement went further in that it declared unconstitutional and therefore invalid an existing statute that was not considered by the Supreme Court.

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

Spouses of veterans in same-sex marriages that are recognized under state law can now receive the federal benefits. Thirteen states, including California, and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court's decision in the Windsor case overturned a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for various purposes.

Last week, the Internal Revenue Service announced that couples in same-sex marriages could file federal taxes jointly. The Office of Personnel Management has allowed same-sex spouses of federal employees to receive insurance benefits regardless of where they live. And in regard to immigration law, same-sex marriages are now treated the same as opposite-sex marriages.

The provision in the veterans law defining a spouse as a member of the opposite sex was declared unconstitutional last week by U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall in Los Angeles.

rclemons@tribune.com

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