Lesbian Army Veteran Should Get Benefits, Federal Judge Rules

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Tracey Cooper-Harris and Maggie Cooper-Harris with fellow veteran Eric Smith at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's third annual Heroes Celebration in Los Angeles, California.

Californian Tracey Cooper-Harris, a 12-year Army veteran who sued the veterans affairs department for withholding disability benefits from her and her partner because they are in a same-sex marriage, has had the case ruled in her favor by a U.S. district judge.

“The court finds that the exclusion of spouses in same-sex marriages from veterans’ benefits is not rationally related to the goal of gender equality,” said presiding Judge Consuelo Marshall, according to the Associated Press.

Marshall concluded that the Department of Veterans Affairs, which frequently relies on a “unique reading of federal law” in determining eligibility, cannot refuse entitlements to an ex-armed forces member in a same-sex marriage, after part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year.

Definitions of “spouse” and “surviving spouse” apply “only to a person of the opposite sex” in the law on veterans affairs, argued Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in a reply to a member of the Armed Services Committee earlier this month. That position has barred same-sex couples from accessing disability and pension payments to which heterosexual veterans and their spouses are entitled.

Beginning Sept. 3,the Defense Department says same-sex spouses of those serving in the military will qualify for the same housing and health benefits as those of the opposite sex.

[Associated Press]
[NBC News]