A district court has followed the lead of previous rulings in affirming that laws barring gay troops from accessing spousal benefits are unconstitutional.
In a four-page summary judgment, U.S. Judge Richard Stearns ruled on Wednesday in the lawsuit known as McLaughlin v. Hagel that gay troops plaintiffs in the case are entitled to spousal benefits in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
Not only the does the decision affirm that spousal benefits must flow to active troops, the ruling states that benefits must flow to gay veterans in same-sex marriages because the portion of Title 38 restricting those benefits to opposite-sex couples is unconstitutional.
“The definitions of the terms ‘spouse’ and ‘surviving spouse’ in Sections 101(3) and (31) of the Title 38 of the U.S. Code are unconstitutional under the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment as applied to Plaintiffs by the Department of Veteran Affairs in the administration of veterans’ benefits governed by Title 38 to the extent those definitions are construed to limit the provision of veterans’ benefits to married opposite-sex couples,” the decision states.
The Justice Department had already announced on its own accord that it would no longer enforce Title 38 to bar gay veterans from spousal benefits in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA.
Still, plaintiffs pursued the litigation, calling for summary judgment, on the basis that the decision from the Obama administration could be altered under another presidency.
The eight plaintiffs couples represented in the lawsuit may receive retroactive benefits covering a longer period of time than other gay troops. The court rulings say they’re entitled to benefits from the time they tried to enroll into DEERS in late 2011. Other gay troops as the result of the DOMA decision are eligible for benefits back until the Supreme Court ruling in June of this year.
In a joint statement, Christopher Man and Abbe Lowell, private attorneys with Chadbourne & Parke LLP who litigated the case on behalf of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the ruling ensures their clients receive benefits they would have obtained in opposite-sex marriages.
“With this order, our clients and we have been able to complete the goal of invalidating those laws that discriminated against loyal and brave soldiers and their families on the basis of the gender of their spouses,” Man and Lowell said. “We are proud to have been part of the effort to end this practice and of our clients for making the fight.”
The case is significant because it was the first in which House Republicans they would no longer work to defend DOMA in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision against the anti-gay law.
John Gillespie, board co-chair OutServe/SLDN, praised the court for making a ruling he said would end discrimination.
“We sought a judgment that would end the unconstitutional discrimination these service members and their families faced,” Gillespie said. “Each of them paid a price for their service, and this judgment begins to right the many years of discrimination. Most importantly, this decision validates the service and sacrifice of all military family members. It guarantees the nation will recognize their contributions and provide the benefits they have earned.”