Metro Weekly

Veterans’ Affairs committee rejects LGBT amendments

Titus amendment would have eliminated statutory language defining a "spouse" as "of the opposite sex"

A Veteran's salute, Credit: The U.S. Army / Flickr

A Veteran’s salute, Credit: The U.S. Army / Flickr

LGBT groups and allies are lambasting members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for rejecting two amendments to a veterans’ benefits bill that would have helped LGBT former servicemembers and their families.

One of the amendments, introduced by Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), would have eliminated language defining a person’s spouse as a person “of the opposite sex” in order to ensure that all veterans are receiving spousal benefits, regardless of their sexual orientation. The other, offered by Mark Takano (D-Calif.), would have added LGBT veterans to the representation on the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans, in order to ensure issues affecting LGBT veterans are heard and addressed.

Both amendments failed on largely party-line votes, although U.S. Reps. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) voted in favor of the Titus amendment along with eight Democrats. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) voted against both amendments, citing concerns that the controversial nature of pro-LGBT amendments could hurt the underlying bill.

Titus, who fashioned her amendment after a bipartisan stand-alone bill known as the Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act, called the vote a “slap in the face of the thousands of gay and lesbian servicemembers who lay their lives on the line in defense of this nation, and for their loved ones who support them at home.”

“As federal representatives and as members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, we have a responsibility to care for our nation’s veterans and their families, gay or straight,” Titus said in a statement. “Today we had an opportunity to put this issue behind us and move forward to concentrate on the many challenges facing our nation’s veterans. Rest assured I will not back down in this fight for equality. There are those who continue to stand in the way of progress; but remember, the arc of the moral universe is long and it bends toward justice.”

But The Washington Post reports that Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) called the issue a “lightning rod” that could become a “poison pill” that threatened to sink the larger veterans’ benefits bill. Miller argued there was no practical benefit to adopting Titus’ amendment, noting that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is already providing benefits to same-sex couples.

The Human Rights Campaign expressed frustration at the defeat of both the Titus and Takano amendments. 

“HRC is incredibly disappointed that the majority of this committee decided to deny LGBT veterans and their families the peace of mind of knowing that the law guarantees them the support that they have earned,” the organization wrote in an official blog post. “These veterans have dedicated their careers and risked their lives for this nation.  Our government should honor their sacrifice.”

[crossslink]Also read: Lawsuit seeks veterans benefits for same-sex spouses[/crosslink]

The American Military Partner Association (AMPA), which advocates on behalf of LGBT servicemembers, veterans and their families, also questioned how any member could vote against formally recognizing what is already being practiced by the Veterans Administration. 

“We are deeply disappointed in those who voted against updating the outdated language in the VA statute, especially in Rep. Corrine Brown and her unexpected lack of support for marriage equality,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, AMPA’s president, wrote in an email to the Post.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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