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 HolderPress: Which way do Dems go in 2020? Sunday shows preview: 2020 field begins to take shape Supreme Court race sets up new battle for Wisconsin MORE wrote in a letter to Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history 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.

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“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 ShaheenSenators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law Overnight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election Democrats offer legislation to counter White House climate science council MORE (D-N.H.), who pushed for the VA to grant the benefits, VA Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiSenate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems Trump VA pick boosts hopes for reform Trump VA pick faces challenge to convince senators he’s ready for job 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.