Decision Is Latest Step in Federal Government’s Rewriting of Rules After Supreme Court Ruling Striking Down DOMA
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration will provide veterans’ benefits to married same-sex couples, another step by the federal government toward treating gay couples in the same way as their heterosexual counterparts after a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
The decision, announced Wednesday in a letter to Congress by Attorney General Eric Holder, tackles one of the thorny legal issues resulting from the high court’s ruling in June striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
After the ruling, the Obama administration began analyzing hundreds of laws and regulations to ensure married gay couples receive treatment equal to that of heterosexual couples when it comes to federal taxes, benefits and immigration rights.
In some areas, the government is able to change regulations without congressional approval. But the federal law on veterans’ benefits, such as health care and survivor payments, defines marriage as between people of opposite sex.
President Barack Obama can’t change the veterans law by himself—that would require action by Congress—but Mr. Holder notified senior lawmakers Wednesday that the administration would no longer enforce that particular section. That will allow same-sex marriages in which one or both members are military veterans to qualify for benefits that heterosexual veterans and their spouses currently receive. The rule change will be implemented as soon as practical, officials said.
“In these unique circumstances, continued enforcement…is no longer appropriate,” Mr. Holder wrote in the letter.