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Legislation would extend VA benefits to same-sex married couples, dependents living in states where their marriages are not recognized

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reintroduced the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act, legislation extending veterans benefits to same-sex couples and their families regardless of where they live. The legislation is named after the late New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who passed away in 2013 after a battle with breast cancer; after her passing, Morgan’s wife and daughter were initially ineligible to receive certain survivor benefits until the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. To this day, families in states where same-sex marriages are not recognized remain ineligible for certain Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.

“No one who has served in uniform and fought for our country should be denied the benefits they’ve earned and deserve,” Shaheen said. “It’s unacceptable that a veteran could return home only to find that their families are not eligible for benefits they were promised because they live in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage. We must act immediately to right this wrong.”

"All of our nation's service members and veterans deserve to have full and equal access to the benefits they earned serving our nation,” said David Stacy, Government Affairs Director for the Human Rights Campaign. “It's unconscionable that veterans with a same-sex spouse continue to be treated differently by the federal government simply because they happen to live in a non-marriage equality state. From veteran disability compensation, to government backed veteran home loans, the consequences of this discrimination for our nation's LGBT military and veteran families are very real."

“Gay and lesbian veterans, having valiantly served in the military, and their spouses must not be denied the benefits they rightly earned simply because of where they live,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office. “Senator Shaheen’s legislation is critical to ensuring that married same-sex couples receive the same federal recognition and respect that opposite-sex couples are entitled to.”

"Our service members put their lives on the line for our nation, and yet, if they happen to live in a state that doesn't respect their marriage, the federal government denies them full and equal access to the veterans benefits they earned,” said American Military Partner Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack. “The only thing that our LGBT veterans and families are asking for is to be treated the exact same way as our straight counterparts, no more and no less. No service member or veteran should be treated as second class just because of the sex of their spouse."

According to the Justice Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is unable to grant comprehensive benefits to same-sex couples in states that do not recognize such legal marriages. The Charlie Morgan Act would address this lingering inequality by altering the definition of marriage in Title 38 to ensure that all veterans receive the federal benefits they’ve earned, regardless of their state of residency. 

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Al Franken (D-MN) and Gary Peters (D-MI). Shaheen will also introduce this legislation as an amendment to the Hire More Heroes Act, legislation that already cleared the House unanimously, when the Senate begins consideration of that bill.