The Supreme Court on Friday issued a ruling declaring the states have no legal right "to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another state on the ground of its same-sex character."
The decision is a victory for advocates of marriage equality, including an Army Reservist whose New York marriage to another man has not been recognized in Tennessee, where they live, and other states with laws stipulating that marriage may only be between one man and one woman.
The case of Sgt. First Class Ijpe DeKoe and his husband, Thomas, was among the handful that the high court considered.
"Their lawful marriage is stripped from them whenever they reside in Tennessee, returning and disappearing as they travel across state lines," Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, noted in the decision. "DeKoe, who served this Nation to preserve the freedom the Constitution protects, must endure a substantial burden" because of the states' laws.
Matt Thorn, interim executive director for OutServe-SLDN, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members, said the Supreme Court's decision was a message to their community "that ... your relationship, your marriage and your family matters to our community as a country and must be respected and treated fairly under the law."
Thorn said the Veterans Affairs Department should immediately end its policy of not providing spousal benefits to couples residing in these states that have not recognized same-sex marriage.
"Our LGB veterans should not be denied these benefits because of the state they live in or because of their sexual orientation," Thorn said. "They should be given these benefits because it is the right thing to do. It is the American thing to do."
VA did not respond to Military.com's request for comment.
Defense Department spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said the ruling will not have any effect on the military when it comes to marriage recognition or benefits, since these have been in place since the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.
"The [DoD] has made the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, as long as service member-sponsors provide a valid marriage certificate," Christen said.
The ruling also has no impact on the roles or responsibilities of military chaplains, he said.
"A military chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate at a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion or personal beliefs," Christensen said.
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