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Veterans' same-sex spouses eligible for federal benefits

5:32 PM, Sep 4, 2013   |    comments
Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - Same-sex spouses of military veterans are the latest beneficiaries of the Supreme Court's decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

President Obama directed his administration on Wednesday to allow veterans' spouses to collect federal benefits, regardless of their sexual orientation. Until now, both the Veterans Affairs and the Defense departments restricted those benefits to heterosexual spouses.

The announcement follows a decision by congressional backers of the Defense of Marriage Act to drop their opposition to same-sex benefits, as well as a federal district court's ruling that the old policy was unconstitutional.

"The continued unwinding of discrimination against legally married couples in the aftermath of the Windsor decision is a welcome development," said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "The federal government is right to ensure that legally married couples, where a spouse has served valiantly in the military, are treated equally."

The administration announced last week that legally married same-sex couples would be treated the same as opposite-sex couples for federal tax purposes. That means they can file joint tax returns and take advantage of all federal tax benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples.

Similar changes have been made by other federal agencies to comply with the high court's ruling, which struck down the ban on federal benefits to same-sex couples. Those changes make immigration, Medicare and family and medical leave benefits available to same-sex couples; final decisions on others, including how Social Security benefits will be handled, are pending.

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