New campaign in Illinois highlights why marriage matters to military veterans

Yesterday, Illinois Unites for Marriage, the campaign working to win marriage in Illinois this year, announced the launch of Veterans Unite for Marriage, a coalition of servicemembers and their families in Illinois. These veterans are joining the growing chorus of people in Illinois making the case to the Illinois House of Representatives that same-sex couples in the state need the freedom to marry now. 

On September 3, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that they would begin providing benefits to the same-sex spouses of gay and lesbian servicemembers, a direct result of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it must comply with federal statutes that only provide these protections to servicemembers and families whose marriages are legally respected by their home state. That means that servicemembers in Illinois - even those who are legally married - are not eligible for these benefits.

Even servicemembers joined together in civil union with a same-sex partner are denied these protections, which range from survivor benefits to health care at veterans' medical facilities. 

James Darby, an 81-year-old veteran of the Korean War, is just one of the service members speaking out for Veterans Unite for Marriage. He said:

After over 50 years together, I have to wonder how our love and commitment to each other is still questioned. A civil union does not hold the same meaning as marriage, and my partner Patrick and I know our love deserves recognition. We just want to be able to protect each other as we grow older.

John Kohlhepp, the campaign manager for Illinois Unites for Marriage, explained the significance of this campaign. He said:

A state-issued marriage certificate is all the evidence necessary for the VA to recognize the marriage as valid. As soon as Illinois passes the freedom to marry, all service members and their families would be able to access these fundamental protections.

Learn more about Veterans Unite for Marriage HERE.