Veterans in same-sex marriages may continue to be unable to receive some federal marriage benefits for their spouses and families, even though the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down.
In a letter to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said Title 38 of the United States Code defined “spouse” and “surviving spouse” as a person of the opposite sex. Legally married, same-sex veteran couples might not be able to receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples because of the language.
“Under these provisions, a same-sex marriage recognized by a State would not confer spousal status for purposes of eligibility of VA benefits. Although the Title 38 definition of ‘spouse’ and ‘surviving spouse’ are similar to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) provision at issue in United States v. Windsor, no court has yet held the Title 38 definitions to be unconstitutional,” Shinseki explained.
Josh Taylor, a VA spokesperson, told The Washington Blade that the department was reviewing the situation.
“No decisions on benefits have been made at this point,” he said. “We’re working with DOJ to assess Title 38 after the ruling and no conclusions have been drawn from that yet.”
Shaheen, along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), introduced the The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act earlier this year. The bill would ensure same-sex veteran couples received the same benefits as opposite-sex veteran couples.
“We need to pass the Charlie Morgan Act to bring Department of Veterans Affairs benefits policy in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down DOMA. I’m committed to making this happen,” Shaheen said Tuesday in a statement. “Every individual who serves in uniform deserves access to the benefits that they’ve earned and rightfully deserve. We can’t tolerate this type of discrimination, especially in the aftermath of a historic Supreme Court ruling that declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.”
The Defense Department will extend spousal and family benefits to same-sex spouses by September 3.
[Lesbian U.S. soldier with hand over heart via Shutterstock]