A U.S. House committee today rejected a measure that would have given same-sex spouses of military veterans access to benefits even if they do not live in a state that recognizes their marriage.
The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs rejected the measure by a vote of 13-12, the Washington Blade reports. Rep. Dina Titus, a Nevada Democrat, proposed it as an amendment to the Our Vets Deserve Better Act, mandating meetings between the secretary of Veterans' Affairs and VA health care advisory committees.
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act last year allows the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages and generally provide gay and lesbian married couples with the same benefits as straight ones, but a law governing veterans' benefits poses an obstacle. That law, Section 103(c) of Title 38 of the U.S. Code, bases marriage recognition on the state where the couple lives, not the state where the marriage took place. So same-sex spouses of veterans cannot receive benefits if they live in states that do not recognize their marriage.
"This inequality for those who wore the uniform of the United States armed forces and their families is unacceptable," Titus said, according to the Blade.
Committee chairman Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida, urged members to reject the amendment out of deference to state laws on marriage. "Deference to the state is not motivated by hostility, it is motivated by adherence to the Constitution," the Blade quotes Miller as saying. "As such, I believe that it is not appropriate to usurp the states' power to democratically define marriage for their citizenry -- not for personal belief, and not for bureaucratic convenience."
Today's vote went along party lines for the most part, with Democrats voting for the bill and Republicans against, with Rep. Jon Runyan of New Jersey being the sole Republican to vote yes, according to the Blade. Runyan is a cosponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but Colorado Republican Mike Coffman -- who is also an ENDA cosponsor -- voted no. Coffman is scheduled to attend the National Log Cabin Republicans' annual dinner in Washington, D.C., September 17.
While Coffman did not issue an immediate comment, Florida Republican David Jolly, one of four House Republicans to support marriage equality, and considered a possible cosponsor for ENDA, said he rejected the amendment because it wasn't germane to the Our Vets Deserve Better Act, introduced by Rep. Denny Heck.
"Frankly, if I'm Mr. Heck today, I'm wondering what the Heck has happened to my bill," Jolly said, according to the Blade. "Legislation I introduced on advisory panels is going to be turned into legislation to carry matters related to same-sex benefits. And on germaneness, I have a concern. I'm certainly not going to raise a point of order, but I have a hard time getting to 'yes' on this simply because this is not the Heck bill." Jolly urged the committee to consider the matter of same-sex spousal benefits in a stand-alone bill.
The American Military Partner Association issued a statement decrying the vote. "The ability of our nation's veterans, no matter their sexual orientation, to access their earned benefits should be an issue that transcends partisan politics," said Lori Hensic, director of research and policy. "It's a sad reflection on the state of our Congress when our elected officials cannot put aside their differences to end this discrimination."