News

Veterans’ benefits to be extended to same-sex couples

Veterans’ benefits to be extended to same-sex couples

Joan Darrah, left, who served nearly 30 years in the Navy and lived through the Sept. 11 attack of the Pentagon, and her spouse, Lynne Kennedy, pose for a photo at their home in Alexandria, Va., Thursday, June 27, 2013. Just two years ago, gays were prevented from openly serving in the military. Now, with the Supreme Court ruling, same-sex spouses of gay veterans and service members will be able to share in their benefits. Photo: Associated Press/Charles Dharapak

By Lawrence Hurley

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.

Latest Stories

now in Entertainment

Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson close to signing on for ‘Jungle Book’

Fresh
lupita

Idris Elba will voice the villainous tiger Shere Khan in the latest adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's adventure tale.

7 minutes ago in Entertainment

John Leguizamo chops off fingertip during filming of ‘Chef’

Fresh
leguizamo

The actor came away from filming with a new-found respect for kitchen staff, a few tips and a great party tale.

1 hour ago in Sports

Yankees Pineda ejected for substance on neck

Fresh
pine

Pitchers are not allowed to use foreign substances to give them a better grip on the ball.

1 hour ago in Sports

Seahawks, Packers kick off NFL season

Fresh
nfl

The Seattle Seahawks open the defense of their Super Bowl crown and kick off the 2014-15 season at home against Green Bay.

1 hour ago in Sports

Knicks looking for hometown discount from Anthony

Fresh
anthony

Potential free agent Carmelo Anthony will be asked to give the New York Knicks a discount on his next contract.