US House of Representatives rejects bill protecting the rights of retired veterans’ same-sex spouses

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A US House of Representatives committee rejected a bill intended to ensure that veterans’ same-sex spouses are entitled to benefits, regardless of their state of residence, on September 10.

The final vote on the bill (called the Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act) by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs was extremely close: 12 in favor of the bill versus 13 against.

According to Title 38 of the US Code, those benefits include medical and disability benefits, death and burial benefits, insurance, housing, education, and more.

Nearly all of the committee members voted along party lines, with Democrats voting for the bill and Republicans voting against it. The sole exception was New Jersey Representative Jon Runyan, the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill. Runyan is also a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Introduced in June 2013, the Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act was written with the intent of amending Title 38 to reflect the current definition of “spouse,” to align with that given by the Department of Defense and the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor v US.

While the same-sex spouses of soldiers on active duty are entitled to receive benefits in all fifty states, the rules change once that spouse retires. Under current policy, when a veteran and their legally married same-sex spouse live in a state that does not recognize their relationship, the spouse no longer qualifies for those same benefits.

According to the Washington Blade, the representative who introduced the bill, Dina Titus, said “It makes no sense that legally married soldiers receive benefits while in the military but lose those benefits when they become veterans if they live in the wrong place. Sadly, my Republican colleagues chose no.”

In a piece titled Here Are 13 GOP Congressmen Who Oppose Gays More Than They Support Our Troops, the New Civil Rights Movement noted that “the anti-gay Republicans claimed theirs was merely an issue of states’ rights, not animus.”

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