HRC strongly condemned yesterday’s vote by the Republican majority on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs defeating an amendment that would have extended equal benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs to active duty service members and veterans legally married to someone of the same sex. The amendment, introduced by Representative Dina Titus (D-NV), would have corrected discriminatory language in federal law that prevents service members and veterans legally married to someone of the same-sex from accessing vital spousal benefits provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs if they live in a non-marriage equality state. The measure was defeated by Republican members of the committee with a 12-13 vote falling along party lines. The exception was Representative Jon Runyan (R-NJ) who put partisan politics aside to stand up for all service members and their families.
“It’s a shame that Republican members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee chose to disrespect our LGBT service members, veterans, and their families with this vote by denying them access to the benefits they’ve earned,” said David Stacy, HRC Director of Government Affairs. “Every service member sacrifices for our nation, and often must put their life on the line to defend our freedoms. It is unconscionable that full access to earned veterans’ benefits is determined by the zip code of where a service member or veteran happens to live.”
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, most agencies across the federal government – including the Department of Defense – began recognizing all legally married same-sex couples, regardless of where they live. But because of an inconsistency in Title 38 that regulates veterans’ benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs has only been fully recognizing married same-sex couples in states that have marriage equality. That means that legally married service members can receive the federal benefits they have earned from the Department of Defense, but the minute that they retire, the Department of Veterans Affairs could treat them as legal strangers if they don’t live in the right state.
Notably, Republican Representative David Jolly (R-FL) – who came out for marriage equality earlier this year – spoke out in favor of the substance of the legislation, but ultimately voted against the amendment because he said he had procedural disagreements. With such a narrow margin, if Rep. Jolly had voted “yes”, the amendment would have passed.