After DOMA Ruling, Same-Sex Spouses Still Blocked From Some Federal Benefits

Nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a key piece of the Defense of Marriage Act barrring same-sex spouses from receiving federal benefits, parts of two key federal programs remain off-limits to married gay couples, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday.

Holder, in a memo Friday to President Barack Obama detailing progress in changing policies to reflect the landmark decision nearly a year ago striking down Section 3 of DOMA, which barred recognition of same-sex marriages, said that most federal agencies had made the changes necessary to extend benefits.

But the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration are prohibited by law from doing so – potentially impacting millions of people, he said.

The problem, he said, is a federal statute stating that the VA and SSA can only grant certain marriage-related benefits based on the law of the state in which the couple resides or resided, not that of the state where the pair got married, or the “place of celebration.” Thirty-one states ban same-sex marriage, “preventing the extension of (the veterans and Social Security) benefits to same-sex married couples living in states that do not allow or recognize same-sex marriages,” Holder said.

Holder urged continued administration support for pending legislation to “adopt a uniform place of celebration rule.”

“We will work closely with Congress to ensure that veterans and elderly and disabled Americans can obtain for themselves or their spouses the essential benefits they have earned no matter where they live,” he promised.

Gay rights advocates expressed displeasure that many same-sex couples were unfairly being excluded from receiving the benefits.

This “rule cuts off thousands of gay and lesbian service members, veterans and spouses from receiving the vital benefits they've earned serving our nation,” the American Military Partner Association said in a statement. “It also creates great disparity in how our nation's veterans are treated by the VA, with clear distinctions made between veterans based upon their sexual orientation and the gender of their spouse.”

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