Monday, February 20, 2012

Feds won't defend laws denying benefits to gay military spouses

The Advocate reports: The U.S. Department of Justice will no longer defend laws that prevent legal same-sex spouses of military personnel from receiving the benefits available to opposite-sex spouses, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said Friday.

There is no reason to treat these laws any differently than the Defense of Marriage Act, which Holder’s department is also no longer defending, he said in a letter to Congress on Friday. Military-specific sections of the U.S. Code that exclude same-sex partners from the definition of spouse, “as applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law, violate the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution, Holder wrote in the letter.

The military benefits are the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network last October on behalf of Maj. Shannon McLaughlin of the Massachusetts National Guard and her wife, Casey. The Justice Department had until February 28 to respond to the suit. SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis, who is leaving that post in a few months, predicted in a January interview with The Advocate that the department would decline to defend those discriminatory laws.

The laws have the effect of denying same-sex spouses of military members the medical and dental insurance, survivor benefits, housing allowances, hospital visitation rights, and other benefits that opposite-sex spouses receive.

Holder said Congress would have the opportunity to defend those laws, as it is doing in DOMA cases. Holder and President Obama announced a year ago that they considered DOMA unconstitutional and would no longer defend it in court.

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