In a move that NBC News is dubbing "its most aggressive decision yet in applying federal benefits to same-sex couples," the Obama administration cleared the way for the legally married same-sex spouses of gay and lesbian veterans to receive military benefits.
In a letter dated today, Attorney General Eric Holder notified House Speaker John Boehner that in light of the Windsor decision, the Department of Justice would no longer enforce the provisions of Title 38 that define the word "spouse" in a way that excludes gay and lesbian couples. Title 38 is the section of federal law that deals with veterans' benefits.
"The Title 38 provisions in question," Holder writes, "...are substantively identical to definitions in Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor..."
"Like Section 3, the Title 38 provisions define the term spouse to mean a "person of the opposite sex," and therefore cannot reasonably be interpreted to include legally married same-sex couples under any available rule of statutory construction."
Holder notes that decisions by the executive branch not to enforce federal laws are "appropriately rare," but that in this particular case, unique circumstances "warrant non-enforcement."
NBC's Pete Williams says the move is unusual because up to this point, the government's decisions about awarding benefits to same-sex couples post Windsor have all involved federal rules as opposed to federal laws.
Today's announcement from the Obama administration comes less than one week after a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that a lesbian Army veteran and her spouse should be entitled to receive military disability benefits.
Holder's letter is embedded after the jump.