A law firm representing gay and lesbian service members and veterans on Tuesday filed suit against the Veterans Affairs Department for failing to extend benefits to same-sex spouses who live in states that do not recognize their marriages.
"Gay and lesbian veterans have served their country and risked the ultimate sacrifice to fulfill their duty to this nation," said Susan Sommer, director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal of New York City. "No member of our community should be left behind just because their home state continues to discriminate against their marriage."
The VA should not rely on state marriage bans that the high court already has declared unconstitutional as the basis to deny spousal benefits, the suit contends.
"VA cannot comment on pending litigation," VA Communications Director James Hutton said.
Lambda, along with the Morrison and Foerster LLP firm of Washington, DC, and San Diego, California, argue that the benefits denial violates the U.S. Supreme Court's decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.
The legal teams filed the suit on behalf of the American Military Partner Association, a non-profit support network for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender military personnel and their families.
The VA currently does not grant benefits to spouses of gay veterans if the couple were married in, or -- at the time they accrued benefits -- living in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages, according to the lawsuit.
The suit also claims the VA is refusing to extend such benefits even though it had previously conceded that "the exclusion of legally married same-sex couples from veterans' benefits is not rationally related to any military interest or other identified governmental purpose."
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.
The denied benefits include pension, survivors benefits, and home loan guarantees.
Stephen Peters, president of AMPA and a Marine veteran married to an active duty Marine, said it is "unacceptable to see [association] members not only discriminated against in their home states where their marriages are disrespected, but also turned down by the federal government for basic veterans benefits for their spouses."
In the active-duty military, same-sex spouses receive the same benefits regardless of whether the state they live in recognize their marriage.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at email@example.com
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