US: Judge rules that Veterans Affairs agency must pay benefits to same-sex spouse

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A federal judge in the US has ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must pay equal benefits to a California veteran in a same-sex marriage.

The VA had said its regulations had defined a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex”, despite the June Supreme Court ruling to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Tracey Cooper-Harris, a 12 year Army veteran had filed the lawsuit against the VA after it refused to recognise her 2008 marriage. The agency’s refusal to recognise the marriage had meant she receved $124 (£79) a month less in disability payments, than she would have received had she been in an opposite-sex marriage.

Several other lawsuits have been brought against the VA after it said the Supreme Court ruling did not apply to it.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki had said the court did not specifically strike down a federal regulation defining marriage as someone of the opposite sex, so the VA would continue to apply its rule.

US District Judge Consuelo Marshall of Los Angeles made the ruling that the federal law was made unconstitutional “under rational basis scrutiny.”

The ruling from Judge Marshall approved an injunction permanently banning the VA from using the regulation. The injunction specified that the denial of benefits to same-sex spouses “is not rationally relevant”, to military purposes.

Cooper-Harris had served in Iraq, and was given an honourable discharge in 2003. She suffers from multiple sclerosis, and receives $1,478 (£948) a month in disability allowances, the same amount an unmarried veteran would receive.