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Underscores need for legislation to extend federal benefits to same-sex couples

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reacted with disappointment today to a Department of Justice announcement that declared that some federal agencies have been unable to extend benefits to same-sex couples in spite of last year’s Supreme Court ruling striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), further underscoring the need to pass her Charlie Morgan Act. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one department that because of current law is unable to grant important benefits to same-sex couples living in states that do not recognize such marriages even if they are legally married in another state. This has created a situation in which veterans who have volunteered to serve in our Armed Forces are discriminated against and can be denied benefits based simply on geography.

“In the year since the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act we’ve seen significant progress toward ending discrimination in federal policy on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity but more work remains,” Shaheen said. “Today’s announcement underscores the need for legislative action. It is unconscionable that same-sex couples in half the country are denied services extended to all couples in the other half and we cannot allow this to continue, particularly for our veterans who have already sacrificed so much for our country. We need to pass the Charlie Morgan Act because all veterans deserve access to the benefits they have earned.”

“Every legally married, same-sex couple deserves to have their marriage fully recognized by the federal government regardless of where they live or what federal benefits they have earned,” said David Stacy, Government Affairs Director of the Human Rights Campaign. “Senator Jeanne Shaheen didn’t wait while VA was deciding whether they would act to ensure our veterans marriages are respected by their country—she took the lead in introducing legislation to guarantee them the benefits they earned. With Senator Shaheen leading the fight, soon every citizen will be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act would require the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to honor any marriage that has been recognized by a state and provide a number of key benefits to the spouses of all servicemembers. By allowing for an individual to be considered a “spouse” if their marriage is valid in their state, Shaheen’s bill ensures that same-sex military families receive many of the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples regardless of where they live.

Shaheen’s amendment honors New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who passed away last year after a battle with breast cancer. Morgan’s wife and daughter have not been able to receive certain survivor benefits due to restrictions in the federal code prohibiting the VA from administering benefits.