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The Obama administration will allow same-sex spouses of military veterans to receive federal benefits currently available only to heterosexual married couples, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to members of Congress Wednesday.
The decision comes just over two months after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited the federal government from recognizing the marriages of gay and lesbian couples in the states.
Holder’s letter notified Congress of the administration’s decision not to enforce the provision of federal law that limits the definition of a veteran's spouse to a member of the opposite sex. The announcement makes the same-sex spouses of veterans eligible for various benefits, including health care and survivor benefits.
Holder said that although the Supreme Court did not address the veterans' benefits law in the DOMA ruling, "the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional."
Texas' and Mississippi's National Guards refused to process requests from married same-sex couples for benefits despite a Pentagon directive. Both states cited their respective bans on gay marriage.
A legal group that represented House Republicans who defended DOMA had already said that, as a result of the high court ruling, it would no longer defend the veterans' benefits law, which has been challenged in court by same-sex couples.
Last week the Treasury Department said the Internal Revenue Service would recognize legally married same-sex couples for federal tax purposes.
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