The Department of Defense announced today that spouses of gay military members will be eligible to receive veterans benefits. This is the latest announcement regarding the effects of the Windsor decision in which Section III of DOMA, limiting the definition of marriage to be between one man and one woman for federal law purposes, was found unconstitutional.
The Department of Defense had previously announced that military benefits would be extended to same-sex spouses. However, a decision on veteran’s benefits had been delayed because those benefits were separately governed under Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which includes its own provision defining marriage between a man and a woman. The Justice Department recently advised the Obama Administration that it considered Title 38’s definition of marriage unconstitutional for the same reasons as set forth in the Windsor decision. Following that advisement, Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that President Obama has directed the Executive Branch to take steps allowing for same-sex spouses of military veterans to collect federal benefits. The announcement comes after the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) recently decided to stop defending the Title 38 provisions in pending cases. Additionally, last week, a federal district court in California held the Title 38 provisions unconstitutional on equal protection grounds.
This decision clears the way for the same-sex spouses of military veterans to receive all veteran’s benefits, which include health care, disability and survival benefits and burials in national cemeteries. The letter from the Attorney General to Congress outlining the decision can be read here.