Veterans Affairs to give benefits to gays, as Obama bypasses law and orders

President Obama ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to start giving spousal benefits to same-sex partners, despite federal laws still in place that specify the benefits can only go toward spouses of opposite sex.

In a letter to congressional heads on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the president ordered that all executive agencies ignore the federal statute limiting VA benefits to spouses “of the opposite sex,” The New York Times reported. Mr. Holder said in the letter that Mr. Obama’s dictate was due to the Supreme Court ruling from June on the Defense of Marriage Act, striking down certain aspects of the law.

“Decisions by the executive not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare,” Mr. Holder said, in his letter. “Nevertheless, for the reasons described below, the unique circumstances presented here warrant non-enforcement.”

Mr. Obama’s order will grant same-sex spouses from the military the same health care benefits as heterosexual couples. That means, for example, widows and widowers from gay marriages will now receive survivor benefits, The Times said.

Other federal agencies, like the Pentagon and the Internal Revenue Service, have taken action to rewrite regulations about marriage, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling. But the VA is different.

Congress actually wrote into federal code the definition of who could receive spousal benefits. The statute still stands; Congress has yet to change it.

Mr. Obama’s order is the next step in the gay marriage debate that’s taken front and center on the national stage in recent months — and one of the most aggressive so far.

The New York Times specified that Mr. Obama’s order doesn’t necessarily mean that every gay couple can now receive the VA benefits. There are still kinks to be worked out dealing with another part of the statute that says spouses’ marriages must be recognized in their state of current residence, or in the state where the military member was discharged.

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