US House Panel Rejects Spousal Benefits For Partners Of Gay Military Veterans

Today the US House Veterans Affairs Committee voted 13-12 to reject an amendment to the Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act. The proposed change would align Veterans Administration policy with Department of Defense rules granting benefits to the legal spouses of active duty gay service members. Via Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade:

Although the vote was a largely along party lines with Republicans voting “no” and Democrats voting “yes,” Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, was the only Republican who broke with his party to vote “yes” on the amendment. Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said he opposed the amendment because it would interfere with states that have enacted laws related to marriage. “Deference to the state is not motivated by hostility, it is motivated by adherence to the Constitution,” Miller said. “As such, I believe that it is not appropriate to usurp the states’ power to democratically define marriage for their citizenry — not for personal belief, and not for bureaucratic convenience.” In his remarks, Miller invoked a recent federal court decision upholding Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage as evidence that state laws are still standing that restrict marriage to one man, one woman. That decision upholding Lousiana’s marriage ban is one among more than 35 other rulings that have overturned prohibitions on same-sex marriage in other states.

Openly gay House Veterans Affairs Committee member Rep. Mark Takano reacts via press release:

“I’m disappointed to see members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee vote against providing benefits to veterans in same-sex marriages who reside in a state that does not recognize marriage equality. The amendment introduced by Representative Titus had no impact on state laws and simply ensured that the policies of the Veterans Administration was aligned with the Department of Defense and the rest of the federal government. Those brave men and women who served our country have earned these benefits and no Member of Congress should be standing in the way of what they are owed. It is my hope that the House Veterans Affairs Committee will revisit this issue as soon as possible so that all veterans, regardless of who they love, are eligible for their full spousal benefits.”

The American Military Partners Association reacts via press release:

“The ability of our nation’s veterans, no matter their sexual orientation, to access their earned benefits should be an issue that transcends partisan politics,” said Dr. Lori Hensic, AMPA Director of Research and Policy. “We are incredibly disappointed, and it’s a sad reflection on the state of our Congress when our elected officials cannot put aside their differences to end this discrimination.” The amendment introduced from Representative Titus (D-Nev.) would have changed the language in Title 38 that forces the Department of Veterans Affairs to look to the place of residency when determining the validity of the marriage, rather than the place of celebration.