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Ca. Veteran Sues For Benefits For Her Same-Sex Spouse

Lawsuit is similar to one filed last year by an Alexandria veteran

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A lesbian couple from California is joining the growing number of same-sex couples asking the Department of Defense  for the same benefits as traditional married couples. 
A lesbian couple from California is joining the growing number of same-sex couples asking the Department of Defense  for the same benefits as traditional married couples. 

A retired U.S. Army sergeant is suing the federal government so she can get veterans' benefits for her same-sex spouse. 

Tracey Cooper-Harris served 12 years in the army. The retired sergeant has been legally married to a woman in California for nearly four years. After a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 2010, Tracey asked the Veterans Administration to grant her wife Maggie a series of benefits.

"Being able to be buried with me at any veterans' cemetery, it also includes, should I become sick or die of any of my service related disabilities, that my wife is duly compensated for," Cooper-Harris says. "These are the same benefits and privileges that other veterans who are service connected that their spouses would receive."

Maggie Cooper-Harris says repeated denials by the VA have affected her wife. 

"What has been the hardest for me is to see how much it hurts her to know the government she has served is currently not valuing her service," Maggie Cooper-Harris says. 

The couple has sued the government with help from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Attorney Randall Lee says the Defense of Marriage Act, the government's basis for denying military benefits to same sex spouses, is unlawful.

"Tracey and Maggie's marriage is legally recognized and there is no basis for their different treatment under the law and that's why we believe it's a violation of equal protection," Lee says.

Retired Navy Captain Joan Darrah lives in Alexandria. The 29-year veteran sued the government along with seven other gay service membersin November. They are also seeking to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and get equal benefits for their same-sex spouses. 

Current regulations don't even allow Darrah's wife access to the base without clearance, she says. 

"If I were to be in the hospital, I'd have to get a neighbor or someone from church to drive my partner, spouse onto the base," Darrah says.

She applauds Cooper-Harris' lawsuit. "Good for her. It's unequal, it's unfair, it's un-American," says Cooper-Harris.

Darrah believes more gay military couples living in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is lawful, such as the District of Columbia, may file similar suits in the future. Darrah's case is still pending, and could take several years to resolve. 

Cooper-Harris Complaint FINAL

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