Same-sex military couples denied benefits based on state laws

While changes to marriage laws at the federal level have provided some long-awaited benefits to same-sex couples, these changes have also resulted in issues for couples who reside in states, like Florida, where same-sex marriages are still banned. These discrepancies can cause the spouses of federal employees, such as military personnel, to lose out on benefits they would be entitled to in states that allow same-sex unions. This often only further complicates military family law issues during already difficult times, such as during a deployment or when a service member is killed.

Recent lawsuits and legal briefs in North Carolina and South Carolina have highlighted the difficulties same-sex military couples can face when stationed in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages. Not only do same-sex military spouses lose their recognition and benefits once they are off the base in these states, it was reported that the federal government defers to the state of residence’s definitions of family members to determine eligibility for certain military benefits, such as survivor benefits.

Differences between state and federal laws, and the deference to the state’s definitions, have prevented at least one military spouse from collecting the benefits opposite-sex spouses are entitled to. The wife of the woman, whose story was reportedly featured in one of the recent briefs, was killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber. Since they lived in a state that does not recognize same-sex unions, the woman is not able to receive survivor benefits.

Navigating military family law issues can be difficult for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. It may be of benefit to seek the advice of an attorney to understand your rights and options when involved in any type of family legal matters.

Source: The Charlotte Observer, “Carolinas’ military families now front and center in same-sex fight,” Michael Gordon, April 17, 2014

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