Following the decision by the United States Supreme Court to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama Administration moved swiftly to extend spousal benefits to married same-sex couples with at least one of them serving in or having served in the military. This was easy for active duty military personnel, but they hit a snag when it came to the laws governing veterans.
Various laws prevented same-sex couples where one is a veteran from obtaining benefits because those laws stated that marriage was between a man and a woman. Those laws were largely swept away by the ruling of a judge last week. Today, Eric Holder announced that the Administration would no longer enforce the section of laws defining veterans’ spouses as being of the opposite sex.
Anthony Martinez, the executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, stated “This is a very aggressive and welcome decision from the Obama Administration. I think what is really striking in this instance is the Administration’s willingness to ensure equal treatment even when the law may not allow such a move.”
Martinez went on to say that “As the nation continues our discourse on the importance of taking care of our men and women who fight for our freedoms once they come home, this is an obvious step to ensure equal treatment of our gay and lesbian service members who have families.”
He concluded that “Although this move is unusual, I think it speaks to the importance of the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling and the negative impact that denying benefits has on same-gender couples. This is yet another reason why here in Illinois we should not be denying our gay and lesbian citizens the right to equal treatment under the law.”
The announcement came in the form of a letter sent to House Speaker John Boehner by Holder. In the letter, Holder makes it clear that the decisions “by the Executive not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare,” but without even the House Republicans defending the statutes and DOMA any more, the action was appropriate.
The letter reads that “In light of these developments, continued enforcement of the Title 38 provisions pending further judicial review is unwarranted. The decision of the Supreme Court in Windsor reinforces the Executive’s conclusion that the Title 38 provisions are unconstitutional, and another Article III court now has so determined. Moreover, as I explained in my earlier letter, one of the primary interests underlying the earlier decision to continue enforcement of the Title 38 provisions was to allow representatives of Congress to present a defense of those provisions to the judicial branch. BLAG’s decision to withdraw from the Title 38 litigation in light of Windsor, and therefore to cease its defense of the provisions at issue, means that continued enforcement would no longer serve that interest. In the meantime, continued enforcement would likely have a tangible adverse effect on the families of veterans and, in some circumstances, active-duty service members and reservists, with respect to survival, health care, home loan, and other benefits.”
The move will prevent veterans from having to undergo costly litigation on their own and allow them to contact Veterans Administration for faster approval.