Cooper-Harris v. United States
Tracey Cooper-Harris served her country for 12 years in the U.S. Army. She received more than two dozen medals and commendations, and was honorably discharged in 2003. In 2010, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease that attacks the brain and central nervous system. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denied Cooper-Harris’ request for benefits for her wife, even though their same-sex marriage was recognized by California.
The SPLC filed suit on behalf of the couple, charging that the VA discriminated against them by denying these benefits while granting them to spouses in heterosexual marriages.
The lawsuit resulted in a historic ruling in 2013 that declared unconstitutional sections of Title 38, a statute that prevented the VA from granting benefits to Cooper-Harris’ spouse. It was the first case to declare that veterans benefits must be provided to a married veteran no matter the sex of the veteran’s spouse.
In declaring the Title 38 sections unconstitutional, the court found there is no military purpose that could justify discriminating against veterans with same-sex spouses. It also found that Title 38 is not rationally related to the military’s commitment to caring for veteran families. The SPLC lawsuit also challenged the Defense of Marriage Act, which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court three months before a federal judge ruled in the Cooper-Harris case.