Servicemembers Legal Defense Network plans lawsuit over military benefits


WASHINGTON — Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said it will file a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), seeking military benefits for legally married same-sex couples that are currently available to their heterosexual counterparts.

The suit, which SLDN said it plans to file by the end of October, will add to the growing number of federal court challenges to DOMA.

SLDN argues that DOMA “violates the Fifth Amendment right to due process.”

Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of SLDN, told the Huffington Post, “That has never been done before,” referring to the Fifth Amendment rights issue, “We’re looking at all the legal remedies available.”

Sarvis said his group is also working to change Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs the armed forces and defines marriage as between two individuals of the opposite sex.

While gay military couples are now eligible for “member-designated” benefits such as group life insurance, missing member notification and hospital visitation rights, DOMA keeps health care coverage and housing allowances off limits. Base housing or housing allowances and health insurance can account for as much as 40 percent of a service member’s compensation, Sarvis noted, yet those benefits are not available to same-sex married service personnel.

“There is a huge disparity between gay and straight service members who are providing equal service, taking equal risks, making equal sacrifices,” Sarvis said. “This inequity should not and cannot stand.”

SLDN’s Director of Communications, Zeke Stokes, told LGBTQ Nation on Tuesday that the organization will mirror the successful campaign to repeal the “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” policy by launching a strategic “two-prong approach” with focus on judicial as well as legislative efforts to remedy the disparity in benefits for military same-sex couples.

Stokes indicated that SLDN was in the final stages of preparation to launch the legal effort, and added that the lack of parity for military same-sex couples in regards to benefits further underscores the need to repeal DOMA. He added that SLDN absolutely stands behind the efforts to pass the Respect For Marriage Act by Congress.

Stokes declined to comment if there was a specific time frame for the filing, or if SLDN had a particular federal bench in mind.

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