WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday that President Obama directed the executive branch to stop enforcing two laws that prevented same-sex married couples from receiving the same veterans’ benefits as are available to opposite-sex married couples.
The move is the latest fallout from the Supreme Court’s June decision in United States v. Windsor striking down the federal ban on recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages that was found in the Defense of Marriage Act.
“This announcement means gay and lesbian veterans who are legally married can better protect themselves and their children,” White House spokesman Shin inouye told BuzzFeed. “The President believes that all couples who are legally married deserve respect and equal treatment under the law, and his Administration continues to work to implement the Supreme Court’s Windsor ruling swiftly and smoothly.”
The laws, found in Title 38 of the U.S. Code, had been found unconstitutional this past week by a federal trial court judge in California.
The decision to stop enforcing a law, Holder wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, “is appropriately rare.” In this situation, however, he wrote that “continued enforcement of the Title 38 provisions pending further judicial review is unwarranted.”
The Justice Department had earlier concluded that the DOMA and Title 38 provisions were unconstitutional. Until Wednesday, however, the Justice Department had a policy that, although it would not defend the provision in legal challenges, it would continue to enforce the law until a final judicial determination was reached as to its constitutionality.
On Wednesday, however, Holder wrote, “Although the Supreme Court did not directly address the constitutionality of the Title 38 provisions in Windsor,” the Supreme Court’s June ruling striking down the provision in DOMA, “the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment.”
Inouye told BuzzFeed, “The President has accepted the Attorney General’s recommendation and has directed that the Administration no longer enforce certain provisions of Title 38 that discriminate against legally married gay and lesbian veterans. This is an important step forward for the families of veterans and their ability to access survival, health care, home loan, and other benefits.
“As the Attorney General’s letter to Congress states, the circumstances of the situation demonstrate that this is the appropriate course of action. Even the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group has ceased to defend the constitutionality of those provisions of Title 38 in legal challenges.”
The American Military Partner Association praised the decision.
“No longer will Tracy Johnson, the surviving spouse of Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson who was killed in Afghanistan, be treated as if she doesn’t matter by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Stephen Peters, president of AMPA, said in a statement. “All of our veteran military families will finally be recognized and supported for their service to our nation.”