The Obama administration will no longer enforce a federal law that bars the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration from providing spousal benefits to couples in same-sex marriages.
In a September 3 letter to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that even though the June 26 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act did not address the military benefits statute, “the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment.”
The DOMA ruling found that the ban on federal recognition of legal same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.
Last year, the Justice Department announced that it had concluded the restriction on military benefits was unconstitutional, but as with DOMA at that time, it would continue to enforce the statute.
When Holder announced in 2011 that the Justice Department would no longer defend DOMA against constitutional challenge, Boehner, acting under the authority of the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), controlled by his majority Republicans, took up that task in federal court. BLAG, however, recently announced it would no longer defend the restriction on military spousal benefits in court. In late August, a federal district court in California found the restrictive statute unconstitutional.
SPART*A, a group of LGBT service members and veterans and their allies, hailed the Holder announcement.
“This is good news for everyone in our military family,” said Jeremy Johnson, the goup’s co-chair. “This announcement has further set the stage for full recognition of LGBT service members as they transition from actively serving to veteran status, no longer keeping them from all the benefits they are entitled to.
The group noted that same-sex spouses would now be eligible for a wide array of benefits, including healthcare, educational assistance, burial cost reimbursement, and Veterans Administration loans.
The move is the latest in a series of steps by the administration that have broadly interpreted the implications of the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision. Last week, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service announced that all legally married same-sex couples –– but not those in civil unions –– must designate their status as married, filing either jointly or separately, on their federal tax forms, regardless of the laws of the state where they reside.