Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

US to Extend Veterans’ Benefits to Married Same-Sex Couples

same-sex veterans benefitsThe Obama administration has announced that same-sex spouses of military veterans will receive the same benefits as heterosexual married couples.

The Washington Post reports US Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to congressional leaders explaining the administration will stop enforcing statutory language defining the word ‘spouse’ as a “person of the opposite sex” regarding Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) benefits.

The administration announced last month that legally married same-sex military couples would also receive the same benefits as married mixed-sex couples, and that LGBT service members stationed in any of the 37 states that do not recognize the legality of same-sex marriages would be afforded as many as 10 days’ leave so they could travel to states where such unions are legal, in order to obtain marriage licenses.

The latest move by the Obama administration marks yet another response to the US Supreme Court’s June United States v. Windsor decision, which struck down a key section of the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which effectively defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman for purposes pertaining to the federal government.

The administration’s decision was hailed by civil liberties advocates.

“The continued unwinding of discrimination against legally married couples in the aftermath of the Windsor decision is a welcome development,” James Esseks, the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project director, told the Washington Post. “The federal government is right to ensure that legally married couples, where a spouse has served valiantly in the military, are treated equally.”

Last week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced it would treat same-sex marriages the same as heterosexual ones, allowing legally married gay couples to file joint federal tax returns for the first time. The new IRS policy will also allow married same-sex couples to claim the same marriage-related exemptions, credits and deductions as other married couples, even if they do not reside in states that recognize gay marriage.

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