Holder Backs Equal Benefits for Gay Couples in Military

John Boehner

In a letter to the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the Justice Department shared the view of plaintiffs in a lawsuit in Massachusetts that such laws — including a part of the Defense of Marriage Act, and statutes governing veterans’ benefits —are unconstitutional.

Mr. Holder announced nearly a year ago that the Obama administration would no longer defend a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages that are legal at the state level. In response, House Republicans hired a legal team to defend it in the other lawsuits..

Mr. Boehner and other Republicans have strongly criticized the move, saying the Justice Department has a duty to defend federal statutes. A spokesman for Mr. Boehner’s office referred questions to lawyers hired by the House, who did not respond to an e-mail.

As in the earlier case, the administration also said Friday that it would continue to enforce the statutes applying to same-sex military spouses unless Congress repealed them or a court ruling striking them down. In his letter on Friday, Mr. Holder invoked the same reasoning that he cited a year ago in the other cases: laws treating people in same-sex marriages differently from heterosexual relationships serve no compelling government interest and violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

“The legislative record of these provisions contains no rationale for providing veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex spouses of veterans but not to legally married same-sex spouses of veterans,” he wrote. “Neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs identified any justifications for that distinction that could warrant treating these provisions differently from” the marriage act.

The lawsuits that generated the administration’s decision a year ago involved civilian legal matters, such as the right of a surviving spouse not to pay estate taxes on inherited assets. The new lawsuit involves military-related matters.

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