Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) predicted Wednesday that the lingering issue of gay veterans being unable to receive benefits for their same-sex spouses in states without marriage equality would be a question for the next secretary of veterans affairs.
During a phone interview with the Washington Blade, Warner said the inability of veterans to receive same-sex benefits in certain states after the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act was a violation of the principles of fairness.
“I still think we need to make sure if we’re talking about equality of rights, that ought to be around, marriage rights, civil rights, housing rights, employment rights,” Warner said.
Asked whether this issue should be a question for the secretary of veterans affairs, a position that is open following the resignation of Eric Shinseki, Warner replied, “I think this will be something that, I’m sure, will be raised with the next VA secretary.”
In June, Warner wrote to the Obama administration asking for an end to the practice of withholding veterans’ home loans from married same-sex couples who live in non-marriage equality states like Virginia. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been withholding these benefits because 103(c) of Title 38, which governs veterans benefits, looks to place of residence, not the place of celebration, in determining whether a couple is married.
In his letter, Warner used the example of a Navy veteran who applied for a veterans’ home loan in Virginia, but was denied equal benefits because the VA won’t count the income of her non-veteran spouse. The couple was married in Maryland, but the VA didn’t insure their loan request to buy a home in Fairfax County, Va., resulting in a much higher monthly mortgage payment for the couple.
Speaking with the Blade, Warner said the couple since that time has been able to secure the lower rate by going through a different agency after insufficient progress was made with the VA. Still, Warner said he would support a blanket policy change from the VA more in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling against DOMA.
Warner is currently facing re-election and running against former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie for a second term representing Virginia in the U.S. Senate.
Asked how he thinks Gillespie would fare on LGBT issues if elected to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate, Warner said he’s not familiar with his opponent’s position on those issues, but expressed skepticism based on Gillespie’s history in Republican politics.
“I do know that there seems to be kind of a cookie-cutter campaign approach coming from many of the Republican candidates this year that has not been as inclusive a message as I’ve got, or I think most folks realize is in the best interest of Virginia,” Warner said. “I’m not going to comment on him specifically other than the fact that he’ll be a double-down on gridlock since this a career paid-partisan, and I’m not sure that’s going to get us to a place where we actually get stuff done in the Senate.”
But Warner did forecast a dismal future for progress on LGBT rights in the Senate if Republicans take control of the chamber and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-Texas) is running the show.
“I think there would be more challenges,” Warner said. “I think this an issue, especially like on marriage equality, where the public has moved much quicker than the elected officials, and, again, I wouldn’t see the same kind of forward progress if the Senate would flip.”
Litigation against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is progressing through the courts. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is set to issue a ruling on the marriage equality case at any time.
Warner said he hasn’t been following the developments in that case, but took credit for recommending along with former Sen. Jim Webb the nomination of U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, who ruled against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage at the district court level.
“I’ve not followed the kind of weekly reports on the briefs and who’s writing amicus [briefs], but I think as you’ve seen all over the country, there clearly seems to be a growing majority if not unanimity,” Warner said. “This is an issue whose time has come.”
Warner endorsed same-sex marriage a little more than a year ago just before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the marriage cases. During his interview, Warner said he came to that support as a result of his three daughters who couldn’t understand his earlier position and said his endorsement built off earlier pro-LGBT actions.
“I fought against the amendment back in 2007, campaigned against it, gave money against it,” Warner said. “I think I had a record that was headed in that direction…I go back to the fact that our law treats people equally in terms of if you love someone, if you want to enter into a committed relationship.”
Warner’s name has been mentioned in some circles as a possible candidate for president in 2016. But the senator said he’s focused on his re-election in 2014, adding he thinks Hillary Clinton would be the “prohibitive favorite” should she run in the presidential race.
Asked whether he would pursue a run either for president or vice president, Warner maintained his focus is on winning re-election to his U.S. Senate seat.
“I’m running for re-election in 2014,” Warner said. “Good try.”