There’s no doubt military spouses and families are a resilient bunch. We’ve learned to adapt and overcome in so many different types of situations, from moving across country over and over again, to changing from one job to another – all while supporting our service member who is often gone for months at a time. We also know how important the programs and benefits are that help make the demands of military life during and after service a little bit easier to cope with, including benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But unfortunately for gay and lesbian veterans with same-sex spouses, we continue to be denied access to the same benefits as veterans with opposite-sex spouses. How can this be? I’m glad you asked.
Since the demise of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case, married same-sex couples finally have access to most of the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples. For those of us who are military spouses, this has made an incredibly HUGE difference in our lives. We no longer have to worry about things that other military spouses often took for granted, like access to health care and on base housing. We can finally shop at the commissary and exchange and access base support programs. We no longer have to worry about being treated as a total stranger if something were to happen to our service member.
We finally have access to most of these important benefits. I say most, because we still aren’t completely there yet. You see, while most of the federal government looks to the place of marriage when determining whether or not a marriage is valid, one important department for military families still does not: the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Because of discriminatory language in the statute that governs the VA, it looks to the place of residence when determining whether or not a marriage is valid for many important benefits. That means a legally married same-sex couple stationed, or living, in a non-marriage equality state still cannot access all of the same benefits as opposite-sex couples from the VA. A military or veteran couple stationed or living in California is treated completely differently from a couple in Texas. From full access to government-backed VA home loans (which both active duty and veterans use), to equal compensation benefits for disabled veterans with dependents, same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states continue to be denied fair and equal access to their earned benefits.
That’s why nationwide marriage equality is so important to so many military families. No service member, gay or straight, should be denied access to the benefits they’ve earned putting their life on the line for our nation.
This summer, the highest court in the land will decide whether the US Constitution allows for states to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples by denying them the right to marry, determining whether or not we will have nationwide marriage equality. This decision will impact so many military families and their access to veterans benefits through the VA.
Let’s hope that fairness, equality, and justice will prevail.