Supporters of marriage equality for gay military and veterans' couples hailed today's Supreme Court's decision for its promise of removing the remaining barriers to some federal benefits.
While the court's previous decision partly striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 cleared the way for gay military couples to qualify for Defense Department benefits, the Veterans Affairs Department has followed a section of law that effectively denies of benefits for some couples who live in states where same-sex marriage is not recognized.
And while DoD policies changed to provide federal benefits, same-sex couples were affected by policies outside the base gates in states that did not recognize such marriages.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court held that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all states, and found no lawful basis for a state to refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state.
A defense official confirmed the decision will have no direct impact on the Defense Department.
"Really not a change for the department at this point. We already extend these benefits," Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday.
The decision cites the case of one of the petitioner couples, Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Ijpe DeKoe and his husband, Thomas Kostura, who married in 2011 before DeKoe's deployment to Afghanistan. When DeKoe returned, they settled in Tennessee.
"Their lawful marriage is stripped from them whenever they reside in Tennessee, returning and disappearing as they travel across state lines. DeKoe, who served this nation to preserve the freedom the Constitution protects, must endure a substantial burden," the decision states.
"From burial rights to veteran home loans … today's historic Supreme Court decision bringing marriage equality to every state in our great nation means that LGBT military families will finally have access to the full federal veterans benefits they have earned," said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partners Association, in a statement praising the court's decision.
The court's decision efficiently answers any lingering questions and closes the loophole in Title 38 pertaining to the VA, wrote Matthew Thorn, interim executive director of OutServe-SLDN, in a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald. Thorn called for the VA to immediately begin providing the benefits to veteran same-sex couples, and even make them retroactive.
"This is a critical step that will help to make sure that every lesbian, gay and bisexual U.S. veteran and their family has the same access to the benefits that they have earned in their service to our country," wrote Thorn.
Married same-sex active-duty and veteran couples living in these states have been denied access to the VA home loan benefit, for example, Mack said. Also affected has been the right of same-sex spouses of veterans to be buried alongside their veteran in a VA cemetery.
In addition, Mack said, "even though the military recognized the legal marriages of our members, once they stepped off their military installation, the laws of the state often took precedence."
"Even if they lived in an equality state, it was very likely they would eventually be transferred; with no guarantees their new assignment would be in another equality state," he said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.