Veterans Administration to Provide Spousal Benefits to Same Sex Couples

As a recent article explains, the Obama administration has recently announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs would begin to provide spousal benefits to the spouses of gay and lesbian veterans for the first time. This announcement came despite a current federal statute that limits the receipt of veteran spousal benefits to spouses “of the opposite sex.”

The Obama administration, however, believes that the federal statute is unconstitutional due to the Supreme Court’s June ruling which held a portion of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. As Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. explained, “Decisions by the Executive not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare. Nevertheless, for the reasons described below, the unique circumstances presented here warrant non-enforcement.”

Among other benefits, the administration’s decision will allow the same-sex spouses of deceased veterans to begin collecting survivor benefits. Importantly, this decision does not benefit all same-sex couples. For purposes of veterans’ benefits, the marriage must have been recognized by the state the couple currently lives in, or lived in when the service member was discharged from duty. If a marriage is not recognized under state law, the couple will not be eligible for such benefits.