A House committee on Wednesday shot down proposed legislation that would have required the Veterans Affairs Department to extend spousal benefits to gay and lesbian married couples in states that do not recognize same sex marriage.
The proposal, in the form of an amendment to a bill calling for the VA secretary to meet with certain advisory committees about veterans' health care, failed 13-12 on an almost strictly partisan vote on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
The only Republican to vote in favor was Rep. Jon Runyan of New Jersey. He did not speak on the amendment prior to voting and Miliary.com was not able to reach him for comment afterwards.
The amendment was proposed by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, who called on House Veterans Affairs Committee members to show "one ounce of the courage [veterans] have" and approve the amendment.
"How many times have we talked about veterans deserving our support, being heroic and getting the benefits they deserve?" she said. "We now have a duty to act."
Titus offered the proposal as an amendment since the bill she introduced on it last June has been stuck in subcommittee.
Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, likened the current system, in which the VA yields to state policy on same-sex marriages for the purposes of benefits, to earlier state laws barring or not recognize interracial marriages.
"Take yourself back 70 years to soldiers coming back from World War II, when interracial marriage was not allowed," he said. "You can't imagine denying [a veteran] benefits based on state's rights. We support benefits for all our veterans, not some of our veterans."
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, chairman of the committee, spoke against the proposal, saying that the current law predates same-sex marriage, and the state's role in determining the legal definition of marriage has been backed by the Supreme Court.
"In determining if a person is or was the spouse of a veteran ... the marriage shall be proven as valid [by the VA] according to the law of the place where they resided at the time of the marriage or when the benefits accrued," Miller said.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, also opposed Titus' amendment.
"I don't want the VA or this committee to impose its views on the State of Kansas," he said.
The vote may have gone the other way had the proposal before the committee been a separate bill – such as Titus previously filed – and not an amendment to another.
Rep. David Jolly, R-Florida, told the panel he agreed with Titus' amendment, and said it was wrong that a veteran who would be getting benefits for a gay spouse while living in Nevada would lose them by moving to Florida.
"My concern is with the germaness [of the amendment], the process – and frankly the frustration at times with how this body works," Jolly said. He said he would like to see the proposal brought up as a standalone bill at the committee level and discussed. The bill Titus would amend, proposed by Rep. Denny Heck, D-Washington, dealt with advising the VA secretary.
In Republican House rules, "germaneness" requires that an amendment address the same subject as the original legislation.
"I oppose this [amendment] because of that," Jolly said, "but I want a forum where we can have this debate."
Last month a law firm representing gay and lesbian service members and veterans filed suit against the VA for its policy.
After the hearing Titus issued a statement blasting those who voted against the amendment.
"My Republican colleagues chose not to stand with our veterans and their families, and instead remained silent, allowing this discrimination to continue," she said. "They lack one ounce of the courage they so often extol as a virtue of our nation's veterans. Shame on them."
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org