Administration extends veterans benefits to same-sex couples

The Obama administration will begin providing veterans benefits to same-sex couples after the Justice Department said Wednesday it would not enforce a law restricting them.

Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderEric Holder says Trump is subject to prosecution after leaving office Eric Holder: Democrats 'have to understand' that 'borders mean something' Trump lawyers ask judge to toss out Dems' tax return lawsuit MORE wrote in a letter to Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE (R-Ohio) that the Justice Department would not enforce a federal statute providing benefits only to opposite-sex spouses.

The administration’s decision is being made in response to the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June.

Holder wrote that President Obama instructed the executive branch not to enforce Title 38, which had prevented benefits from being given to the spouses of gay and lesbian veterans.


“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.”

The decision will open up veterans benefits to same-sex couples who are in marriages recognized by state law. It follows previous moves from the administration to provide benefits to same-sex spouses of service members and to recognize same-sex couples for tax purposes, even in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.

While the Pentagon swiftly moved to provide benefits to same-sex couples, the Department of Veterans Affairs had said its situation was more complicated.

In a letter to Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenCruz endorses GOP candidate for Senate in New Hampshire Meghan McCain: Lewandowski Senate run would be 'an absolutely ridiculous crap show' Super PAC targets Lewandowski with ad amid Senate speculation MORE (D-N.H.), who pushed for the VA to grant the benefits, VA Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiBill HR 2333 is a good step to helping curb veteran suicide  Senate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems Trump VA pick boosts hopes for reform MORE wrote that the definitions of spouse in Title 38 “would not confer spousal status for purposes of eligibility for VA benefits.”

Shinseki said in the Aug. 14 letter that no court yet had found the Title 38 definitions unconstitutional. Holder noted in his Wednesday letter that a district court did find the definitions unconstitutional on Fifth Amendment grounds.