It looks like married same-sex couples will finally be eligible for veteran’s benefits, as President Obama has ordered the Justice Department to stop enforcing the federal statute restricting benefits to opposite-sex partners.
Attorney General Eric Holder revealed the new policy in a letter to Speaker John Boehner today, wherein he claimed that the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act called for a new interpretation of Title 38, the collection of federal laws that detail how veterans’ benefits are dispersed.
Currently, Title 38 is worded such that only opposite-sex couples are eligible for veteran’s benefits. Holder (and Obama) are arguing that the justification the Supreme Court used in knocking down DOMA—basically, that it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to deny a certain status to a class of people who have already been granted that status by a particular state—also apply to Title 38. Therefore, the policy that restricted veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex couples was essentially struck down the moment DOMA was declared unconstitutional.
The Court’s conclusion that [DOMA] ‘violates basic due process and equal protection principles’ by ‘impos[ing] a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States’...would seem to apply equally to the Title 38 provisions.
Holder also noted that a federal district judge came to the same conclusion about Title 38 last week, and so the administration won’t await further judicial review before halting the Title 38 enforcement. This is significant: Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shineski had defended the original restrictions partially due to the fact that no court had yet found them unconstitutional. But that’s no longer the case, and so one more argument for denying veterans’ benefits to same-sex has been removed.
“Decisions by the Executive not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare,” Holder wrote. “Nevertheless, for the reasons described, the unique circumstances presented here warrant non-enforcement.”
It doesn't look as if anyone from the "protect marriage" camp has raised a stink over this yet, but we suppose it's only a matter of time.