The U.S. Justice Department will stop enforcing federal law barring gay spouses from sharing veterans’ benefits, clearing the way for payments to begin, according to a letter sent to congressional leaders.
Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers he would no longer defend a statute restricting veterans’ benefits to spouses of the opposite sex. The notices is the latest action from President Barack Obama’s administration as it implements the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The law denied benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that allowed it.
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“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,” Holder said in the letter to lawmakers including House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
The Justice Department announced in 2011 it would no longer defend the law, known as DOMA, after a determination that the law was unconstitutional. A similar standard will apply to veterans’ benefits, which are defined in statute as available to a spouse that is “a person of the opposite sex.”
Veterans Affairs Department Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, in an August letter to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said the existing law would “not confer spousal status for purposes of eligibility for VA benefits.”
A federal judge in California last week ruled that same-sex couples must be eligible for the same veterans’ benefits as married heterosexual couples in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
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