Judge rules VA can’t deny benefits to lesbian war vet’s wife

Posted at 1:48 PM, Aug 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-30 13:48:49-04

(CNN) – The Department of Veterans Affairs cannot deny benefits to the wife of a lesbian military veteran, a U.S. district judge in California said in a ruling that in part cites this summer’s Supreme Court invalidation of a key Defense of Marriage Act section.

The case involved former Army Sgt. Tracey Cooper-Harris, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who sued the department last year after it denied dependency benefits to her wife — whom she legally married in California — because the federal government didn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

While Cooper-Harris’ case moved through the court system, the Supreme Court in June rejected the part of DOMA that denied federal benefits to same-sex partners, even those legally married. That left Title 38 of the U.S. Code, parts of which ban veterans’ benefits for same-sex spouses.

In Thursday’s ruling, Judge Consuelo B. Marshall, after noting the DOMA rejection, ruled that the government couldn’t use Title 38 to deny benefits to Cooper-Harris’ wife, Maggie Cooper.

Marshall cited defense experts who argued veterans’ benefits are an essential promise to service members, helping retention and recruiting.

“The denial of benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages is not rationally related to any … military purposes,” the judge wrote. “Additionally, Title 38 is not rationally related to the military’s commitment to caring for and providing for veteran families.”