The couples, legally married in states permitting same-sex unions, are seeking the same benefits afforded heterosexuals in the military including family housing and married-couple housing allowances along with medical and dental coverage.
Some current benefits are constrained by the Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.
Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly sent a letter to Congress last Friday saying the Justice Department would not contest the lawsuit. Holder labeled the 1996 federal law a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to equal protection under the law.
“The president and I have concluded that classification based on sexual orientation should be subject to a heightened standard of constitutional scrutiny under equal protection principles,” the Holder letter noted, according to an Air Force Times account. “The (current DOMA law) fails such scrutiny as applied to couples who are legally married under state law.”
The Obama administration had earlier said it would not defend DOMA in subsequent court actions. The decision will have no immediate effect on Defense Department policy regarding gay couples.
In a legal challenge to DOMA filed last year, Congress appointed a legal team to defend the federal statute in court. According to The Times, the same legal team is also expected to defend the military benefits case.
The actions of gays in the military have become increasingly visible since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was revoked. The Washington Times reported Monday that an association of gays in the military has more than doubled over the last five months.
Air Force Lt. Josh Seefried, identified as co-director of a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employee resource group, said his organization now has more than 4,900 members.