A lesbian couple sued the Department of Veterans Affairs last year
Former Army Sgt. Tracey Cooper-Harris wanted benefits for her wife
With DOMA's ban invalidated, a judge rules Title 38 also can't block benefits
Judge: The denial is "not rationally related" to military purposes
The Department of Veterans Affairs cannot deny benefits to the wife of a lesbian military veteran, a U.S. district judge in California said in a ruling that in part cites this summer’s Supreme Court invalidation of a key Defense of Marriage Act section.
The case involved former Army Sgt. Tracey Cooper-Harris, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who sued the department last year after it denied dependency benefits to her wife – whom she legally married in California – because the federal government didn’t recognize same-sex marriages.
While Cooper-Harris’ case moved through the court system, the Supreme Court in June rejected the part of DOMA that denied federal benefits to same-sex partners, even those legally married. That left Title 38 of the U.S. Code, parts of which ban veterans’ benefits for same-sex spouses.
In Thursday’s ruling, Judge Consuelo B. Marshall, after noting the DOMA rejection, ruled that the government couldn’t use Title 38 to deny benefits to Cooper-Harris’ wife, Maggie Cooper.
Marshall cited defense experts who argued veterans’ benefits are an essential promise to service members, helping retention and recruiting.
“The denial of benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages is not rationally related to any … military purposes,” the judge wrote. “Additionally, Title 38 is not rationally related to the military’s commitment to caring for and providing for veteran families.”