The ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee has introduced a bill that would exempt the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs from the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) proposed that the Pentagon change the definition of spouse to include same-sex couples, allowing legally married gay and lesbian service members to collect military benefits.
The “military Spouses Equal Treatment Act” would rewrite a section of the U.S. Code to change the definition of “spouse” in four areas related to recognition, support, and benefits for married service members and veterans.
“If veterans or service members have a spouse of the same sex, then their spouse will be afforded the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts,” said Smith.
“Spouses of service members should not be prevented from receiving the benefits they have earned simply because they are the same sex as their partner,” Smith added. “This discriminatory practice must come to an end.”
The current definition of spouse, which comes directly from the Defense of Marriage Act, refers to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife. As a result, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs can only provide limited benefits to spouses of gay or lesbian service members.
The bill, HR 6046, was introduced June 27 and was referred to the Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees.
“Ranking Member Smith has recognized with the introduction of this legislation today that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal – while a monumental achievement for gay and lesbian service members and all Americans – does not finish the job of ensuring full equality for these brave patriots and their families,” said Aubry Sarvis, an Army veteran and Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).
“We thank him for his leadership and urge his colleagues in both parties and in both houses of Congress to join him and us in this important fight,” said Sarvis.