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The Veterans Affairs Department will begin recognizing same-sex spouses, giving gay veterans access to benefits that were previously limited to heterosexual couples, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.
The decision comes after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that said a law distinguishing between heterosexual and homosexual marriages was unconstitutional.
The decision will clear the way for veterans with same-sex spouses to tap additional benefits including survivor benefits and transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
In June, the Defense Department announced plans to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of current service members, but it remained unclear how VA would respond because the Supreme Court’s ruling did not specifically address the federal law that defines veterans benefits, known as Title 38.
However, Attorney General Eric Holder said the court’s intent was clear regardless of the loopholes that may remain.
“Although the Supreme Court did not directly address the constitutionality of the Title 38 provisions in Windsor, the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment,” Holder wrote in a letter to Congress on Wednesday.
The new rules will recognize any marriage that is legal in the state where it occurred.
Last week, a federal court in California declared the VA law to be unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court’s June ruling. Also, Republicans on Capitol Hill dropped their legal effort to block same-sex benefits for veterans.