This excellent news may have been buried over the weekend. Attorney General Eric Holder has notified congressional leadership that the Justice Department will no longer defend laws that prevent gay and lesbian couples from receiving the same military and veterans benefits afforded to their heterosexual counterparts, reported Talking Points Memo.
The Defense of Marriage Act and other laws ban federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Obama Administration announced last February that it will NOT defend recent lawsuits challenging DOMA.
"The legislative record of these provisions contains no rationale for providing veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex couples of veterans but not to legally married same-sex spouses of veterans,” Holder wrote. “Neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs identified any justifications for that distinction that would warrant treating these provisions differently from Section 3 of DOMA."
Holder said DOJ would no longer defend the provisions in Title 38 which prevent same-sex couples who are legally married from obtaining benefits. He said that Congress would be provided a “full and fair opportunity” to defend the statues in the McLaughlin v. Panetta case if they wished to do so.
As Holder writes, the benefits in question "include medical and dental benefits, basic housing allowances, travel and transportation allowances, family separation benefits, military identification cards, visitation rights in military hospitals, survivor benefits, and the right to be buried together in military cemeteries."
The full letter can be read HERE.
The action taken by Attorney General Holder comes after the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network's lawsuit in McLaughlin v. Panetta. The lawsuit announced in October was the second federal lawsuit in as many weeks that targeted the military over DOMA. Only the week before, an 18-year lesbian Navy veteran announced a lawsuit over disability benefits. The decision could also impact more recent litigation, reports the Washington Blade.
Holder’s decision is likely to have a bearing on another lawsuit challenging Title 38 and DOMA, Cooper Harris v. United States. The lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center earlier this month on behalf of Tracey Cooper-Harris, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who’s seeking disability benefits for her spouse.
Christine Sun, SPLC’s deputy legal director, said she believes the Holder letter applies to her organization’s lawsuit in addition to the SLDN litigation.
"There’s absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t apply to our case," Sun said. "I believe that it was sent in connection to the McLaughlin case because there was the recent stipulation between SLDN and DOJ to extend the deadline for the government to respond to SLDN’s summary judgment case, but we’re certainly interpreting the letter to say that the Department of Justice won’t be defending Title 38 in our case either."
The Obama Administration will no longer defend these cases ... but it's very likely that counsel hired by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will intervene to defend the litigation.