President Obama has extended federal benefits to same-sex spouses of military veterans, the Justice Department announced.
The move comes after the Supreme Court struck down a major provision of the Defense of Marriage Act -- which defined marriage as between a man and a woman -- though the law did not apply to veterans benefits specifically. Federal statute defining benefits to veterans did not simply say “marriage” or “spouse,” as did the more than 1,000 laws affected by the DOMA decision; instead, the U.S. code explicitly stated the following for veterans: “The term ‘spouse’ means a person of the opposite sex who is a wife or husband.”
“Although the Supreme Court did not directly address the constitutionality of the Title 38 provisions in Windsor [v. United States], the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment,” Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter to congressional leaders explaining the decision.
The Veterans Affairs Department was among the last holdouts in the federal government to extend benefits to same-sex spouses, with the Office of Personnel Management and Defense Department already issuing guidance extending benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
The announcement comes after a federal judge recently ruled a married same-sex couple in California was eligible for extra benefits reserved for married veterans. In July, House Republicans -- who sponsored the DOMA defense in the Supreme Court -- said they would no longer defend the statute prohibiting the extension of veterans’ benefits to same-sex spouses.