The Justice Department will stop enforcing a federal law that prohibits the Veterans Affairs Department from providing benefits to same-sex married couples.
Attorney General Eric Holder, in a letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner, advised lawmakers that the Obama administration believes the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act – specifically Section 3 that dealt with federal benefits, and that defined marriage for federal purposes as only between one man and one woman – also nullifies a separate federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purposes of veterans benefits.
(Other parts of DOMA – including the provision that states not be forced to recognize same-sex marriage laws in other states – still remain in effect, at least for now.)
Holder said the Justice Department also has concluded the VA statute to be unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment.
“Continued enforcement would likely have a tangible adverse effect on the families of veterans and, in some circumstances, active-duty service members and reservists, with respect to survival, health care, home loan, and other benefits,” Holder wrote.
A U.S. district judge ruled last week that the Department of Veterans Affairs couldn’t use Title 38 for this purpose in the case of a former Army sergeant and her wife.
Holder in 2012 first advised Congress that the department would cease defending the DOMA law in court, but agreed to continue enforcing it pending legal challenges.
Since the nation’s high court has struck down the law, the administration has sought to issue new rules to provide federal legal recognition to same-sex marriages, including treating same-sex and straight couples the same for tax purposes.
The VA ban on same-sex marriage recognition is a separate law. But Holder, in his letter, said the law contains the same language as that struck down by the Supreme Court.
Holder noted that a recent federal court ruling that struck down the VA ban and that a group of lawmakers who were seeking to defend the DOMA law has withdrawn its defense of the VA statute.