One of the major areas of change facing VA Home Loan Centers, as an agency responsible for administering the VA Home Loan Guarantee to veterans, is the question of same-sex marriage.
Federal law stipulates that veterans and their spouses are eligible to apply jointly for mortgages backed by the Veterans Administration. Unmarried couples (including same-sex couples) could only get VA support for both partners if all parties involved were eligible for the benefit on their own. The question of who can be legally married and what benefits they receive is a crucial distinction in providing housing assistance to veterans. Which is why in September 2013, VA Home Loan Centers was the first government-backed mortgage provider to begin offering VA-backed mortgages to same-sex married veterans. As of Nov. 10, 2014, VA Home Loan Centers has extended eligibility to a total of 19 states (plus Washington D.C.).
In terms of entitlement use among the surviving spouses of same-sex marriages, use of the VA loan is governed at the state level. Although the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages, spousal eligibility is contingent on whether or not the individual state issues same-sex marriages or not. As estimated by the Urban Institute, there are a million gay veterans living in the United States.
Under eligibility guidelines established by the Department of Veterans Affairs, surviving spouses may participate in the loan program under the following conditions:
- If the service-member died in service or conjunction with a service-related disability; the surviving spouse, if not remarried may qualify.
- If the service-member died in service or from a service-related disability, the remarried surviving spouse can qualify if re-marrying after turning 57, following Dec. 16, 2003.
- If the military member is a POW or is MIA; the surviving spouse can qualify.
- If the surviving spouse was the recipient of VA compensation at the time of the service-members death for an injury incurred during service that resulted in a complete disability, they can qualify.
- If the military member had a total disability for ten consecutive years leading up to death, the surviving spouse may
- If the military member had a consecutive total disability for five years from the time of discharge, the surviving spouse can qualify.
- If the military member was formerly a POW, who died following September 30, 1999, and was suffering a complete disability for the 12 months prior to death, the surviving spouse can qualify.
What States Can A Married Same-Sex Couple Obtain A VA Loan?
VA Home Loan Centers originates mortgages guaranteed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to married same-sex couples in the following states:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming as well as in Washington, D.C.
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A brief history of same-sex marriage in the United States
The last 20 years have seen an enormous shift in both the legal and popular understanding of same-sex marriage around the nation. After years of legislation and litigation, gay marriage currently is recognized by the federal government and is allowed in 35 states, specific jurisdictions in Missouri, 11 Native American tribal jurisdictions and the District of Columbia. Gay marriage is currently specifically banned in 15 states and two American territories. This is a dramatic shift in the accessibility of marriage to same-sex couples from just a few decades ago, when few states even considered the possibility of granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Gay marriage entered the national debate with the 1970 court case of Baker v. Nelson. This case saw the Supreme Court upheld the decision of a Minneapolis clerk to refuse a marriage application from two gay men. Within three years, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation explicitly banning same-sex marriage. By 1993, seven states had clear statutes forbidding gay marriage. A few jurisdictions, notably the District of Columbia, moved in the other direction, creating various types of domestic unions short of marriage.
The same year, the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that the state’s law defining marriage as between a man and a woman was discriminatory. In response, a number of states began strengthening their statutes, and more importantly, the federal government took action. The Defense of Marriage Act, better known as DOMA, was signed into law by former President Clinton in 1996. Under DOMA, same-sex couples were ineligible for federal marriage benefits, regardless of whether their state considered them married.
Even after the passing of DOMA, many states continued to strengthen their laws against the practice, including Alaska, which passed the first state constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage in 1998. Hawaii also passed an amendment allowing (but not requiring) its legislature to do the same. By 2000, 40 states explicitly banned same-sex marriages, although several others, like Vermont, allowed same-sex couples to register for civil unions instead.
2003 saw the next big change come. The question came before the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of the couples who sued, saying that denying marriage licenses on the basis of sexual orientation was a violation of the state constitution. Six months later, the first legal gay marriages were performed in Massachusetts. Opponents of same-sex marriage were energized by the ruling to prevent other states from following the same path while supporters vowed to see other states follow suit.
During the 2004 election cycle, 11 states passed constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage to prevent a similar judicial ruling from state courts; by the end of the year, 16 states had bans in place. Other states passed amendments, including seven during the 2006 election cycle and three in 2008. It was not until 2008 that a second state, Connecticut, legalized same-sex marriage, followed by Iowa in 2009, a ruling that led to three justices being removed in recall elections.
One of the most vocal debates took place in California, where a hotly debated amendment known as Proposition 8 was passed in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage. After a federal court had overturned the measure, supporters appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, several other states legalized gay marriage, whether by court rule, legislation or popular referendum, totaling nine states plus the District of Columbia by the start of 2013.
2013 was a momentous year for same-sex marriage, both in terms of opposition and support of it. Several new states added measures banning same-sex marriage while eight others legalized it. In March, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage, having previously announced that the government would no longer defend DOMA in court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear challenges to Prop. 8 and DOMA, and in June, it ruled against both, leading the government to begin extending marriage benefits to same-sex couples.
In December of 2013, a judge struck down a constitutional amendment in Utah, a state known for its dominant religious and political institutions’ staunch opposition to same-sex marriage; that ruling has been put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2014, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, Ohio, Arkansas, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana, Utah, Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona, Nevada, West Virginia, North Carolina, Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina, Montana, Arkansas, and Mississippi all lifted their same-sex marriage bans.
South Dakota, Florida, Alabama, Texas, and Puerto Rico all lifted their same-sex marriage bans in 2015.
For more information about loan eligibility, contact VA HLC.