Minnesota Congressman introduces House version of a bill to protect LGBT veterans & families
|U. S. Representative Tim Walz, (D-MN)|
Photo Credit: Alex Kolyer, Minnesota Public Radio
WASHINGTON -- Minnesota Democrat Representative Tim Walz on Wednesday introduced the House version of the bipartisan, "Protecting the Freedoms and Benefits for All Veterans Act."
The legislation would ensure that LGBT veterans and their families receive equal treatment for equal service. Currently LGBT veterans, spouses, and their families, depending on where they reside, can be denied survivor benefits-including but not limited to- death pensions, life insurance, educational assistance, and bereavement counseling), spousal benefits, and flag burial honors.
The bill, is a companion measure to legislation introduced earlier this year by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Kirsten Gillibrand. (D-N.Y.) who introduced the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013, named for New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who passed away earlier this year after a battle with breast cancer. That bill calls for additional benefits to be made available to all military spouses and families, regardless of sexual orientation. (The House version is the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 (MSET), re-introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.).)
Under the proposed bills, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs would be required to honor any marriage that has been recognized by a state and provide a number of key benefits to the spouses of all service members.
“When someone puts their life on the line to protect our freedom at home, they deserve to enjoy the same freedom and earned benefits as anyone else who has done so, no matter who they love or where they reside,” Representative Walz said referring to his bill.
“This common sense legislation will work to ensure that LGBT veterans and their families are treated equally under the law, no matter what state they live in.”
The Supreme Court’s June decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) overturned Title 7, Section 3, of United States Code (U.S.C.), which stated that the federal government interpreted the terms “marriage” and “spouse” to only apply to heterosexual couples. However, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn DOMA does not apply to Title 38, Section 101 (3) and (31) of the U.S.C. This Section includes a definition of spouse as a person of the opposite sex for the purpose of benefits given.
LGBT veterans face two hurdles which prevent them from receiving the same benefits as their fellow veterans.
First, LGBT couples do not meet the definition of “spouse” and “surviving spouse” and do not receive benefits. Spouse is currently defined in U.S.C. Title 38 as a marriage between one man and one woman.
The second issue relates to the state in which an LGBT couple is married versus the state in which they live. For example, if an LGBT couple is married in Minnesota (where gay marriage is recognized) but resides in Wisconsin (where gay marriage is not recognized), under current law, they are not necessarily afforded the same VA benefits as same-sex couples in Minnesota. Additionally, if an LGBT couple resided in Minnesota, married legally in Minnesota, but then moved to a state where same-sex marriage is not recognized, they may not receive the same benefits as other veterans.
Representative Walz noted that his legislation fixes these problems.