SLDN To Sue Over Military Benefits For Spouses Of Gay Troops
LAS VEGAS -- The gay advocacy group that successfully lobbied to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy plans to file a lawsuit in federal court by the end of October that would challenge the constitutionality of federal laws that make married same-sex couples ineligible for the same benefits as their straight counterparts.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network will argue that the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates the Fifth Amendment right to due process, in what the group says will be the first case of its kind. "That has never been done before," Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN, told The Huffington Post.
Sarvis, who spoke about his group's plans at the OutServe Armed Forces Leadership summit here over the weekend, said the case would be brought by several currently serving members of the military who were married in the seven jurisdictions where same-sex marriages are legal. He declined to identify the plaintiffs.
"We're looking at all the legal remedies available," Sarvis said, noting that the group also is working to change Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs the armed forces and defines marriage as between two individuals of the opposite sex.
The SLDN lawsuit would follow a similar case filed last week by a disabled Navy veteran from Connecticut who was denied spousal benefits because she is married to a woman. That case, however, was filed in a court that handles veterans benefits and does not touch upon the compensation of active-duty service members.
While gay military couples are now eligible for "member-designated" benefits such as group life insurance, missing member notification and hospital visitation rights, DOMA keeps health care coverage and housing allowances off limits. Base housing or housing allowances and health insurance can account for as much as 40 percent of a service member's compensation, Sarvis noted, yet those benefits are not available to same-sex married service personnel.
"There is a huge disparity between gay and straight service members who are providing equal service, taking equal risks, making equal sacrifices," Sarvis said. "This inequity should not and cannot stand."
SLDN's impending lawsuit comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote next month on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.