Months after a landmark Supreme Court ruling made same-sex marriage legal across the country, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs this week voted against saying explicitly that same-sex spouses of veterans are entitled to the same benefits as straight ones.
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said she introduced the amendment as a way to ensure same-sex couples rights to benefits if a spouse dies while in combat and to modernize outdated language. But the amendment failed with eight Democrats and two Republicans voting in support, 12 Republicans opposed. The language would have updated Title 38 of the United States Code to reflect that not all “spouses” are “person(s) of the opposite sex.”
The change wouldn’t have cost any money and Titus said its rejection was “a slap in the face of the thousands of gay and lesbian service members who lay their lives on the line in defense of this nation, and for their loved ones who support them at home. Today we had an opportunity to put this issue behind us and move forward to concentrate on the many challenges facing our nation’s veterans.”
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, voted against the language amendment, calling the issue a “lightning rod,” adding that it could become a “poison pill” that would jeopardize the larger bill it was part of that would grant various veterans benefits, improvements to claims and cost of living adjustments.
“(This) really has no practical benefit for our nation’s veterans today,” Miller said. “It’s very possible that if this amendment is adopted, members who would otherwise enthusiastically support this legislation … would be otherwise forced to vote against it. … The VA is already providing benefits that her (Titus) amendment would formalize.”
Same-sex spouses may receive benefits in all 50 states while their spouse serves on active duty, but before the Supreme Court case, that same treatment was not extended to same-sex spouses of veterans who lived in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.
“How in good conscience could any member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs vote against Rep. Titus’s amendment affirming equality for LGBT veterans and their families?” said Ashley Broadway, president of the American Military Partner Association, in an e-mailed statement. “We are deeply disappointed in those who voted against updating the outdated language in the VA statute, especially in Rep. Corrine Brown and her unexpected lack of support for marriage equality.”
Titus has previously invoked the words of President Abraham Lincoln, who pledged that the country would care for veterans and their families.
“When President Lincoln laid out his vision of caring for veterans, he said we should support those ‘who shall have borne the battle,’ ” Titus said. “He didn’t say anything about discriminating against some because of who they love.”