Ruling in ‘McLaughlin’ case confirms protections for servicemembers and spouses

Yesterday, Judge Richard Stearns issued a ruling in McLaughlin v. Hagel, the case that challenged treatment of gay and lesbian servicemembers and their families by the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs are entitled to judgement in their favor, meaning they should be entitled to the protections and benefits that all other families receive. 

OutServe-SLDN, the organization that brought the lawsuit on behalf of 8 same-sex couples, yesterday explained, "This decision in McLaughlin v. Hagel confirms that Servicemembers, Veterans, and their family members are entitled to equal protection with respect to administration of benefits by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs."

The ruling is in line with the June 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Windsor v. United States, which struck down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and led to legally married same-sex couples receiving the 1,100+ protections and responsibilities that marriage triggers at a federal level.

It comes a week after a federal judge in California also found that federal laws excluding same-sex spouses of U.S. servicemembers from the benefits and protections that military veterans receive are unconstitutional. The judge wrote that there was no rational basis for the Department of Veterans Affairs to bar same-sex spouses from receiving these protections - that it is not related to the goal of gender equality, to any military purposes, or to the military's commitment to caring for veteran families. The judge explained that the definition of "spouse" in Title 38 of the Code of Fedearl Regulations is unconstitutional.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has already announced that the Department of Justice would not defend Title 38, the law barring same-sex spouses from receiving veteran's protections, and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which defended DOMA after the Obama administration said they would no longer defend the law, has withdrawn from the case.

Lead plaintiffs Major Shannon McLaughlin and her wife Casey have worked with OutServe-SLDN and Freedom to Marry on our joint public education campaign Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry, about how DOMA hurts same-sex military couples. Watch this video they appeared in from May 2013: