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Feds won't enforce same-sex veterans law

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration said Wednesday it will stop enforcing a law that blocks benefits to partners of military veterans in same-sex marriages.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Attorney General Eric Holder said that a provision in federal law on benefits to veterans and their families defines "spouse" to mean a person of the opposite sex. He says that definition leaves out legally married same-sex couples, and runs afoul of a June Supreme Court ruling.

The court declared unconstitutional a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act restricting the words marriage and spouse to apply only to heterosexual unions. Holder says that like the Defense of Marriage Act, the provision in the veterans benefits law has the effect of placing lawfully married same-sex couples in a second-tier marriage.

"Decisions by the Executive not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare," Holder told Congress. "Nevertheless, the unique circumstances presented here warrant non-enforcement."

He said the Supreme Court's conclusion that DOMA imposes a stigma on everyone in same-sex marriages "would seem to apply equally" to the veterans benefits law. Holder noted that after the Supreme Court's decision, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives withdrew from a pending lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the veterans benefits provisions.

President Barack Obama directed the executive branch to cease enforcement of the provision, Holder wrote.

Last week, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that a lesbian Army veteran and her spouse should be entitled to disability benefits, given the Supreme Court's recent ruling.

U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall said that federal law defining a spouse as a person of the opposite sex is unconstitutional since the high court's decision allowing legally married gay couples the right to health care benefits.

by Anonymousreply 709/05/2013

[bold] Married Gay Veterans to Receive Benefits [/bold]

Married gay and lesbian veterans will now be eligible for the same benefits afforded to married straight veterans, according to an announcement from Attorney General Eric Holder today.

The federal government will no longer enforce language within Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which forbids the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense from recognizing as legal any marriage other than that of one man and one woman.

Today's announcement is the latest in an ongoing series of statutory and procedural changes arriving as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic ruling on June 26 in Windsor v. U.S., striking down a key segment of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from recognizing any same-sex marriages, even from states that had embraced marriage equality.

“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,” wrote Holder in a letter to congressional leaders obtained by The Advocate. "Like Section 3 [of DOMA], the Title 38 provisions have the effect of placing lawfully married same-sex couples in a 'second tier marriage,' which 'departs from [a] history and tradition of reliance on state law to define marriage.'"

The announcement comes less than a week after a federal judge in California ruled Title 38 unconstitutional. U.S. district judge Consuelo Marshall of Los Angeles made the ruling last Thursday in a case brought by Tracey Cooper-Harris of Pasadena, Calif., who is married to a woman, NBC News reports. Cooper-Harris, a 12-year Army veteran who has multiple sclerosis, receives $1,478 a month in disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs, $124 less than if the VA considered her married.

Even though the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that kept the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, the VA had not yet provided equal benefits to same-sex couples, citing Title 38, the portion of U.S. law governing veterans’ benefits, which defines “spouse” as a member of the opposite sex. However, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki recently said the VA and the DOJ were reevaluating “the continued constitutional viability” of Title 38 in light of the DOMA decision.

by Anonymousreply 109/04/2013

This is landmark news.

Why do I feel like it's temporary?

by Anonymousreply 209/04/2013

I'm sure this would have happened under the Bush Administration...

by Anonymousreply 309/04/2013

Marriage equality keeps moving up.

by Anonymousreply 409/04/2013

Because you're too scared, r2?

Of course it's not temporary.

EVEN IF a republican wins in 2016, they won't actually change the federal laws...

by Anonymousreply 509/05/2013

More good news.

by Anonymousreply 609/05/2013

Since the Repugs have castrated Obama's administration from Day 1, I believe the pro-gay stuff is his revenge on them.

by Anonymousreply 709/05/2013
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