Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

DOMA Discrimination Against Lesbian Army Veteran Challenged in Court

Tracey Cooper-Harris, highly decorated Army veteran, denied spousal benefits because she is lesbian

Los Angeles, California – A highly decorated lesbian veteran of the U.S. Army is being denied disability benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and today the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed an important lawsuit to challenge DOMA on her behalf. Tracey Cooper-Harris served with honor in the U.S. Army for 12 years, and received an honorable discharge in 2003 after having received more than two dozen medals and commendations.  But because she married a person of her own sex in California, a perfectly legal marriage still in force, the United States government is denying her and her spouse Maggie equal disability benefits to those heterosexual spouses are receiving.

Cooper-Harris, who achieved the rank of Sergeant for her service in Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, was diagnosed in 2010 with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disabling disease of the brain and central nervous system for which there is no known cure. Government doctors determined that Cooper-Harris contracted MS as a result of her military service. Faced with a daunting future, she is trying to get her affairs in order as any responsible spouse would. Cooper-Harris received individual disability benefits, but since DOMA is still federal law, the government says that she and her spouse are not eligible for the spousal benefits her service truly entitles them too–all because of anti-gay discrimination, even after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).

Cooper-Harris said, “I dedicated 12 years of my life to serving the country I love. I’m asking only for the same benefits the brave men and women who served beside me enjoy. By refusing to recognize our marriage, the federal government has deprived Maggie and me of the peace of mind that such benefits are meant to provide to veterans and their families.”

The federal lawsuit, Cooper-Harris vs. United States, filed February 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the laws governing the Veterans Affairs policy that denies equal treatment before the law for Cooper-Harris and other married same-sex persons in the nation. Christine P. Sun, Deputy Legal Director of the SPLC, said, “The government’s refusal to grant these benefits is a slap in the face to the gay and lesbian service members who put their lives on the line to protect our nation and our freedoms. Especially given the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it’s shocking that the federal government continues to demean Tracey’s years of service and the service of many others in this way.”  The case is being litigated on Cooper-Harris’s behalf pro bono (at no charge) by the SPLC.

February 1, 2012 - Posted by | African Americans, California, DADT, DOMA, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Social Justice Advocacy, Southern Poverty Law Center, U.S. Army | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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