Reps. Newman, Jones, Kahele Introduce Bill to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages Under Veteran Affairs Marriage Laws

Mar 03, 2022
Press
Veterans

The Supporting All Veteran Families Act will strike discriminatory VA language that still defines a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex” 

WASHINGTON, D.C – Today, U.S. Representatives Marie Newman (IL-03), Mondaire Jones (NY-17) and Kaialiʻi Kahele (HI-02) introduced new legislation to formally recognize LGBTQ+ Americans and same-sex couples under Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) marriage law for spouses or surviving spouses of veterans.  

While same-sex marriage has been a fundamental right in America since 2015, the current VA statute still defines a veteran spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a wife or husband.” The Supporting All Veteran Families Act will finally remove this discriminatory language and further ensure same-sex married couples are always treated equally the same as opposite-sex married couples and entitled to the same VA benefits. This legislation also removes language that implies shame and judgment upon surviving spouses. 

“As public leaders in our nation, each of us has a moral obligation to ensure that all LGBTQ+ veteran and their families receive the hard-earned benefits they deserve for protecting us and serving our country honorably,” said Congresswoman Marie Newman (IL-03). “The time to remove this discriminatory language is long overdue, which is why I am proud to partner with my colleagues on this critical legislation that will clarify that supporting LGBTQ+ veterans and their families is the official, written policy of the VA. We must always provide our LGBTQ+ veterans and their families with our unequivocal support and appreciation for the sacrifices they have made for every single one of us across this country.” 

“From repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to ending the trans military ban, our federal government has taken much-needed steps to protect our LGBTQ+ veterans, but we can’t stop there,” said Congressman Mondaire Jones (NY-17). “I’m proud to co-introduce the Supporting All Veteran Families Act to finally ensure same-sex marriages are formally recognized under VA marriage law. LGBTQ+ veterans risked their lives to protect our country, and they deserve the benefits they’ve earned to support themselves and their loved ones after their service.” 

“Our LGBTQ veterans and their families, who have served honorably and made great sacrifices for our nation, deserve our full support and equal treatment,” said Congressman Kaialiʻi Kahele (HI-02). “Our legislation ensures that VA policy finally matches its practice and fully reflects marriage equality for our veteran families. Our words matter, and now is the time to establish marriage equality in the VA’s guiding statute.” 

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) discriminated against same-sex couples and that the VA must treat all married couples equally. The VA offers a variety of benefits and services that depend upon a Veteran’s marital status, including certain benefits to a Veteran’s “spouse” or “surviving spouse.” Since this ruling, same-sex veteran couples have been eligible to receive spousal benefits such as pensions, benefits, VA home loans, medical coverage, and more. However, in nearly a decade, Congress has never passed legislation to formally update VA statute to reflect this ruling and recognize same-sex veteran spouses in law.  

“LGBTQ Americans have been serving in our military throughout history, often sacrificing their rights and identities to do so. Today’s military ranks are the most diverse in history as a result of open service for LGBTQ individuals. It is beyond time that the laws designed to support veterans and their surviving spouses are updated to reflect those who wear the cloth of our nation and the changing laws that have expanded marriage rights to the LGBTQ community,” said Lindsay Church, Executive Director, Minority Veterans of America. “We applaud Representative Newman and her colleagues for The Supporting All Veteran Families Act and their commitment to ensuring our laws reflect the changing American population.” 

“TAPS is grateful to Representatives Newman, Jones and Kahele for introducing the Supporting All Veterans Families Act to end the archaic ‘Hold yourself out to be married’ clause, which has caused many surviving spouses to live in fear of losing their survivor benefits when moving forward in their lives,” said Bonnie Carroll, President and Founder, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). “We also appreciate that this bill ensures same-sex surviving spouses are always treated equally, the same as opposite-sex surviving spouses, and in the event of a veteran’s death the surviving spouse is entitled to the same VA benefits.” 

With the Supporting All Veteran Families Act, Congress can finally remove discriminatory language from law and expand the VA’s definition of marriage to recognize all same-sex couples. 

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