Denied Veterans Benefits Over Same-Sex Marriage Next Step In Civil Rights Fight


This is the next level where the fight must be waged when it comes to the civil rights for gay members of the military.

In what experts say is the first case of its kind, a disabled Navy veteran from Connecticut is challenging the constitutionality of two federal laws that define marriage as being between opposite-sex partners, saying the government denied her veterans benefits because she is married to a woman.

The former sailor, Carmen Cardona of Norwich, married her partner in Connecticut last year. But when she applied for an increase in her monthly disability compensation because she was newly married, the Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in Hartford rejected her application, citing a federal statute that defines a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex.”       

In a case to be filed before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, a special federal court in Washington that handles disputes over veterans benefits, Ms. Cardona’s legal team from the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School will argue that the government’s definition violates her Fifth Amendment right to due process.

But the legal team, which includes law student interns, says it will also challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.       

Though the constitutionality of the marriage act has been challenged in federal courts around the country, experts said this would be the first time a plaintiff had tried to use the veterans court of appeals to attack the law.

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