As early as September, members of the military who are legally married to a spouse of the same sex will be able to claim the same Federal benefits which other married couples are entitled to.
This post originally appeared at Occupy Democrats
By Randa Morris
Earlier this week the Pentagon announced that beginning as early as September 3rd, members of the military who are legally married to a spouse of the same sex will be able to claim the same Federal benefits which other married couples are entitled to. Some of the benefits couples who serve in the US military can look forward to receiving include healthcare and housing, as well as additional benefits that same sex couples have long been denied under Federal laws and guidelines. The changes come following the Supreme Court ruling which overturned critical parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Aside from receiving the same standard benefits given to heterosexual couples, couples who currently reside in states where same sex marriage is illegal can apply for up to ten days of leave time, if they plan to travel to another state in order to become legally married. Same sex marriage is currently legal in thirteen US states, as well as the District of Columbia. Legislation has been introduced in other states across the US however, and legal challenges have been filed in several states, where same sex couples are currently denied equal rights under the law.
These new federal guidelines are a welcome sign that the United States military will no longer discriminate against active or retired members, based on their sexual orientation. The United States V Windsor case, otherwise referred to as the DOMA case, found that the previous US definition of marriage, which recognized only heterosexual unions, was discriminatory in nature and therefore in violation of the 5th amendment, Due Process Clause. For gay and lesbian service members, the ruling prohibits the federal government from discriminating against their marriages or denying benefits which are provided to other married couples. Thanks to the DOMA ruling, same sex couples are now entitled to equal status and will receive equal benefits under the law.
While the United States may still have a long way to go before it can be said that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a thing of the past, the DOMA ruling has the potential to impact state and local laws which still uphold discriminatory definitions of marriage. In Michigan, for example, lower courts have used the DOMA ruling to strike down state laws which define marriage as between a man and woman only, thereby allowing same sex couples to be denied benefits under the law. Judge Brenard Friedman cited the DOMA ruling when allowing a law suit to proceed against the state’s constitutional amendment, which enshrines the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.
“ Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim has sufficient merit to proceed,” the judge wrote in his decision. “The United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor, [the DOMA case] has provided the requisite precedential fodder for both parties to this litigation.”
“The Supreme Court has just invalidated a federal statute on equal protection grounds because it ‘place[d] same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage,’ moreover, and of particular importance to this case, the justices expressed concern that the natural consequence of such discriminatory legislation would not only lead to the relegation of same-sex relationships to a form of second-tier status, but impair the rights of ‘tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples’ as well. This is exactly the type of harm plaintiffs seek to remedy in this case.”
While state legislation may lag behind new federal policies, the DOMA ruling has already brought about significant changes in policy from federal agencies, such as the Pentagon. This is good news for those who have long labored to bring about change, ensuring equal rights and protections under the law.
Photo: AP File/U.S. Navy, Kristina Young