The U.S. Justice Department on Sept. 4 announced a new policy means that the Obama administration will no longer enforce statutory language governing the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense that restricts the awarding of spousal benefits to opposite-sex marriages only.
The language, contained within Title 38 of the U.S. Code, has, until now, prevented the executive branch from providing spousal benefits to veterans – and in some instances active-duty service members and reservists – who are in same-sex marriages recognized under state law.
Attorney General Eric Holder, in a letter to congressional leaders, said the action was consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Section 3 barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and denied gay couples access to more than 1,300 marriage-related benefits.
Holder, in the letter, wrote, “Although the Supreme Court did not directly address the constitutionality of the Title 38 provisions … the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment.”
Last year, the Obama administration decided that two provisions of Title 38 that govern benefits for veterans and their families were unconstitutional as applied to legally married same-sex couples.
At that time, Holder informed Congress that the Justice Department would no longer defend the Title 38 provisions, but that the executive branch would continue to enforce them.
This week’s announcement from Justice makes clear that enforcement of the provision in Title 38 defining marriage as between a man and a woman will now cease.