A Senate committee advanced legislation on Wednesday that would ensure married gay service members can receive benefits — including veteran’s benefits — for their same-sex spouses.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approved by voice vote as part of a package of additional bills legislation known as the Charlie Morgan Act, which would change the definition of spouse in U.S. code governing troop benefits to ensure spousal benefits flow to gay service members.
The legislation is named after Charlie Morgan, a New Hampshire guardsman who battled incurable breast cancer as she was a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by gay troops against the Defense of Marriage Act. Morgan, who was seeking veteran’s benefits for her spouse, Karen Morgan, succumbed to the diseased in February before the Supreme Court struck down DOMA on June 26.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the chief sponsor of the bill, said in a statement approval by the committee was a tribute to the late guardsman.
“Every individual who serves in uniform should have access to the benefits they’ve earned,” Shaheen said. “Charlie served on the front lines for our country, but because of her sexual orientation her family has been wrongfully being denied many of the same benefits given to those who stood beside her.”
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of DOMA, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he’d work to implement spousal benefits for gay troops that weren’t previously allowed under the anti-gay law.
But Title 38, the portion of U.S. code governing veterans’ benefits, defines marriage as an opposite-sex union independently of DOMA. Benefits afforded to veterans under this law include disability compensation and the right to be buried together in a state or national veterans’ cemetery. It’s unclear whether these benefits will flow to veterans with same-sex spouses even with the court ruling against DOMA.
Shaheen concluded passage of the Charlie Morgan Act would complement the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA to ensure gay veterans receive the same benefits as their straight counterparts.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA was a victory for the belief that all Americans are to be treated equally under the law, and I am pleased the Veteran’s Committee has built on the landmark progress we’ve seen for marriage equality,” Shaheen said. “I hope the full Senate will move forward on the Charlie Morgan Act so that finally no spouse, child or family is denied benefits they have earned and deserve.”