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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Important Information on Marriage

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a variety of benefits and services that depend on "spouse" and "surviving spouse" status. For the purpose of VA benefits, spousal status is predicated on a valid marriage under state law. Under the current Federal law, 38 U.S.C. 103(c), VA may recognize a Veteran's marriage for VA purposes if:

  • the marriage was legal in the place where the Veteran or the Veteran's spouse lived at the time of the marriage; or
  • the marriage was legal in the place where the Veteran or the Veteran's spouse lived when he or she filed a VA claim or application (or a later date when the Veteran became eligible for benefits).

VA is providing information about when it can recognize a marriage on its application form instructions and through public outreach. VA generally accepts a claimant's or applicant's statement that he or she is married as sufficient evidence to establish a Veteran's marriage for the purpose of VA benefits.

VA is dedicated to serving all eligible Servicemembers, Veterans and their families and providing them the benefits they have earned.

How To Determine If VA Will Recognize a Marriage?

Scenario If Then, for purposes of VA, Veteran and spouse are
1 The Veteran and/or spouse live in a state that recognizes their marriage at the time of the claim or The surviving spouse lives in a state that recognizes their marriage at the time of the claim Married
2 The Veteran is deceased, and the Veteran's last state of residence during his/her lifetime recognizes the marriage at the time of the claim Married
3 The Veteran and/or spouse lived in a state that recognized their marriage when they were married Married
4 The Veteran and spouse lived in a state that did not recognize their marriage when they were married (having traveled to a recognition state to get married), live in a state that does not recognize their marriage at the time of the claim, but then the Veteran and/or spouse move to a state that does recognize their marriage while the claim is pending

or

The Veteran is deceased. The Veteran and surviving spouse lived in a state that did not recognize their marriage when they were married (having traveled to a recognition state to get married). At the time of the claim, the state of the deceased Veteran's last residence and the state where the surviving spouse lived when the claim was filed do not recognize their marriage. However, while the claim is pending, the surviving spouse moves to a state that does recognize their marriage
Note: VA generally interprets "when the right to benefits accrued" (per 38 U.S.C. 103(c)) to mean "at the time of the claim." However, the right to benefits can also accrue at a later time after the claim is submitted, when all the requirements for entitlement are met.
5 The Veteran and spouse lived in a state that did not recognize their marriage when they were married (having traveled to a recognition state to get married) and continue to live in a state that does not recognize their marriage at the time of the claim or

The Veteran is deceased. The Veteran and surviving spouse lived in a state that did not recognize their marriage when they were married (having traveled to a recognition state to get married). Also, at the time of the claim, the state of the deceased Veteran's last residence and the state where the surviving spouse currently lives do not recognize their marriage
Not married for purposes of VA benefits

***** Programs to which section 103(c) is NOT applicable because spousal eligibility is not based on marriage to a "Veteran"*

  • Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI)

  • Family Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (FSGLI), including the process of converting a spouse's FSGLI coverage to an individual policy spouse of a

  • Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI)

  • Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits (VA's recognizes all DoD-approved transfers to dependents)

  • Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance if the relationship is based on marriage to a Servicemember.

  • Burial or memorialization benefits if the relationship is based on marriage to certain reservists, certain members of the reserve officer training corps, certain wartime allies of the U.S., and certain individuals entitled (or who would have been entitled but for their age) to retirement pay. (For more information, see www.cem.va.gov/cem/burial_benefits/eligible.asp#natlguard)

For these programs, the law requires VA to recognize marriages based on the law of the place where the marriage occurred, which is the same standard as used by the Department of Defense (DoD). If you have additional questions, please contact one of our Call Centers at 1-800-827-1000.

List of States That Have Recognized Same-Sex Marriage:

State Name DATE SAME-SEX MARRIAGES WERE PERMITTED IN THE STATE (use this column if the place where the marriage occurred is the same as the place of residence) DATE SAME-SEX MARRIAGES FROM ANY OTHER STATE WERE RECOGNIZED (use this column if the place where the marriage occurred is different from the place of residence)
Alaska October 17, 2014 October 17, 2014
Arizona October 17, 2014 October 17, 2014
California June 17, 2008 November 4, 2008 June 26, 2013 present June 17, 2008 November 4, 2008 June 26, 2013 present
Colorado October 7, 2014 October 7, 2014
Connecticut 1,2 November 12, 2008 November 12, 2008
Delaware 2 January 1, 2012 July 1, 2013
District of Columbia March 9, 2010 July 7, 2009
Hawaii December 2, 2013 December 2, 2013
Idaho October 15, 2014 October 15, 2014
Illinois December 16, 2013 December 16, 2013
Indiana October 6, 2014 October 6, 2014
Iowa April 20, 2009 April 30, 2009
Maine December 29, 2012 December 29, 2012
Maryland January 1, 2013 February 23, 2010
Massachusetts May 17, 2004 May 17, 2004
Michigan March 21, 2014 to March 22, 2014 March 21, 2014 to March 22, 2014
Minnesota August 1, 2013 August 1, 2013
Missouri   October 6, 2014
Nevada October 9, 2014 October 9, 2014
New Hampshire 2 January 1, 2010 January 1, 2010
New Jersey October 21, 2013 October 21, 2013
New Mexico August 21, 2013 January 4, 2011
New York July 24, 2011 February 1, 2008
North Carolina October 10, 2014 October 10, 2014
Oklahoma October 6, 2014 October 6, 2014
Oregon May 19, 2014 October 16, 2013
Pennsylvania May 20, 2014 May 20, 2014
Rhode Island August 1, 2013 May 14, 2012
Utah October 6, 2014 October 6, 2014
Vermont September 1, 2009 September 1, 2009
Virginia October 6, 2014 October 6, 2014
Washington December 6, 2012 December 6, 2012
West Virginia October 9, 2014 October 9, 2014
Wisconsin October 6, 2014 October 6, 2014
Wyoming October 21, 2014 October 21, 2014
  1. Both Connecticut (effective October 1, 2010) and Rhode Island (effective August 1, 2013) recognize out-of-state domestic partnerships and civil unions as "marriages".

  2. Several States have passed laws converting civil unions or domestic partnerships that were previously performed within the state to "marriages". On October 1, 2010, Connecticut (CT) converted existing in-state civil unions to marriages with an effective date of October 1, 2010 (CT civil unions permitted as of October 1, 2005). On January 1, 2011, New Hampshire (NH) converted existing in-state civil unions to marriages with an effective date of January 1, 2011 (NH civil unions permitted as of January 1, 2008)." On June 30, 2014, Washington (WA) will convert existing in-state domestic partnerships, in which either of the partners is not over the age of 62, to marriages effective on the date that the domestic partnership was performed (WA domestic partnerships permitted as of July 23, 2007). On July 1, 2014, Delaware (DE) will convert existing in-state civil unions to marriages, effective the date the civil union was performed (DE civil unions permitted as of January 1, 2012).

  3. From June 1, 2014 to May 31, 2015, couples who have an Illinois (IL) civil union will have the option of having their IL civil union converted to a marriage, effective the date the civil union was performed (IL civil unions permitted as of June 1, 2011).

Important: VA is in the process of updating all forms that request marital status information in order to provide information on its marriage-validity determination criteria.

If you have additional questions about how these recent changes regarding same-sex marriage may affect your claim for benefits, please refer to our frequently asked questions below.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Q: Who is considered a spouse for purposes of VA benefits?

A: To be recognized as a spouse of a Veteran for purposes of VA benefits and services, the marriage must be recognized under the law of the place where at least one of the parties resided at the time of marriage, or the law of the place where at least one of the parties resided when the claim or application was filed, or at a later date when the eligibility requirements were met. This requirement comes from one of the Federal laws that govern VA, 38 U.S.C. 103(c). Additional guidance on determining whether VA can recognize a marriage for the purpose of Veterans' benefits can be found at www.va.gov/opa/marriage/.

Q: What supporting evidence do I have to submit with my claim or application to add my spouse as a dependent?

A:VA will require the same amount of evidence for claims and applications involving same-sex marriage as claims based on opposite-sex marriage. Generally, VA will accept a claimant's or applicant's assertion that he or she is married as sufficient evidence to establish a Veteran's marriage for the purpose of VA benefits and services. However, consistent with current policy (applicable to all marriage-based benefits), VA may continue to pursue further development if an assertion concerning a marriage appears unreliable, but will not treat assertions regarding same-sex marriages as inherently suspect for this purpose.

Q: What does a claimant's or applicant's "assertion" entail?

A:VA generally accepts a claimant or applicant's assertion that he or she is married as sufficient evidence to establish a Veteran's marriage for the purpose of VA benefits. In asserting a spousal relationship, claimants and applicants are responsible for determining whether their marriages may be recognized by VA. To assist claimants and applicants in making such determinations, VA is publicizing the section 103(c) standard through form instructions, web pages, and other means so that claimants and applicants are aware of when VA can recognize their marriage.

Q: Will VA pay retroactive compensation and pension benefits for claims involving same-sex spouses? What will be the effective date?

A:For the purpose of assigning an effective date for a compensation or pension claim, if the claim was pending as of September 4, 2013 (the date of the President's directive), the effective date will be assigned as if the laws barring VA's recognition of same-sex marriage had never been in effect. In some instances, this could mean an effective date as early as the date of marriage or as early as when VA received the claim.

For the purpose of assigning an effective date for a compensation or pension claim that was not pending as of September 4, 2013, provided that the claimant met all of the eligibility requirements for the benefit by that date, and the claim was received within the following year, VA generally will assign an effective date of September 4, 2013. For claims received more than one year after September 4, 2103, if the claimant met all eligibility requirements on that date, VA may assign an effective date up to one year prior to the date of the claim. This provides a grace period for persons who were previously ineligible for benefits under the law to learn of the President's directive, and to submit claims and applications based on that change.

Q: Does VA apply different requirements when evaluating my same-sex marriage? Will VA apply different requirements to a same-sex marriage?

A:VA recognizes marriages, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, that meet the requirements of 38 U.S.C. 103(c). If eligibility is based on a Veteran's marital status, the marriage must be recognized by the place where the Veteran or the Veteran's spouse resided at the time of the marriage, or where the couple resided when they filed the claim(or at a later date when the eligibility requirements were met) per section 103(c).

VA will require the same amount of evidence for claims and applications involving same-sex marriage as claims based on opposite-sex marriage. Generally, VA will accept a claimant's or applicant's assertion that he or she is married as sufficient evidence to establish a Veteran's marriage for the purpose of VA benefits and services. However, consistent with current policy, VA may continue to pursue further development if an assertion concerning a marriage appears unreliable, but will not treat assertions regarding same-sex marriages as inherently suspect for this purpose.

Q: I filed my claim or application the day after the Attorney General's announcement in September and still haven't received a decision? Why?

A:Following the Attorney General's announcement of the President's directive of September 4, 2013, VA generally held claims or applications involving same-sex marriages as VA worked with the Department of Justice to develop guidance to process those claims and applications under a clear and consistent standard. VA will begin processing these claims and applications on June 20, 2014.

Q: Can I transfer my Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to my same-sex spouse, even if my marriage is not recognized for the purpose of other VA benefits and services?

A:Yes, if all other eligibility requirements for transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are met. For those benefits where eligibility is based on something other than an individual's Veteran status, VA may recognize marriages that have been recognized by the Department of Defense (DOD). VA's legal requirements regarding marriage recognition do not apply to transfers of Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits because an individual's eligibility to transfer this education benefit is based on the individual being a member of the uniformed services with a specific amount of qualifying service.

Q: What if I currently live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage?

A:If you reside in a state that recognizes your same-sex marriage at the time that you filed your claim or application, your marriage will be recognized for the purpose of VA benefits and services.

Q:: What if I resided in a state that recognized same-sex marriage at the time I was married?

A:Your marriage will be recognized for the purpose of VA benefits and services.

Q: What if I have never lived in a state that recognized same-sex marriage, but I traveled to a recognition state to marry?

A:Federal law, 38 U.S.C. 103(c), precludes VA from recognizing your marriage. Under section 103(c), VA may recognize marriages that are recognized under the law of the place where the parties resided at the time of marriage, or the law of the place where the parties resided when the claim or application was filed, or at a later date when the eligibility requirements were met. Your marriage would not meet these requirements because it is not recognized according to the law of either the place where you or your spouse resided at the time of the marriage or the place where you and/or your spouse resided when you filed your claim or application (or a later date when you became eligible for benefits).

Q:Does VA recognize common law marriages?

A:VA will recognize a common law marriage provided the state in which they reside recognizes common law marriage, and the state's requirements for a common law marriage are met.

Q: How long do I have to live in a state for VA to consider the state my residence?

A:In order for a state or other jurisdiction to be considered the place where you reside, you must live in the place continuously for a reasonable period of time, or have moved there with the intent to remain for, at least, a reasonable period of time. This would not include a visit to or a temporary stay in a location. On the other hand, a temporary absence from a place where you ordinarily live would not defeat the finding that you reside in that place.

Q: Can I have more than one place of residence?

A:Yes. In certain situations, an individual may reside in more than one place at a time. For example, it is possible for a Servicemember to reside in the place where he or she is stationed, but also remain a resident of another place where he or she ordinarily lives. VA will look at the law of both places and use the more favorable law in determining whether your marriage can be recognized for the purpose of VA benefits and services.

Q: What if my spouse and I lived in different places when we were married?

A:If you and your spouse resided in different places at the time of your marriage, the law of either place, whichever is more favorable, may be used in determining whether your marriage can be recognized for the purpose of VA benefits and services.

Q: What if my home state changed its laws to recognize same-sex marriage after I traveled to be married somewhere else?

A:If you previously filed a claim or application for VA benefits or services and your claim or application was denied because VA was precluded by the law of your home state from recognizing your marriage, you may reapply for the benefit or service based on the recent change in that law. For any claim filed after the change in the state law, VA's recognition will be based on the current law as long as the state continues to be the claimant's or applicant's place of residence.

Q: What if I move to a state that recognizes same-sex marriage while my claim or application is pending?

A:If you and your spouse lived in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage when you were married and lived in a state that did not recognized same-sex marriage at the time you filed your claim, but then you moved to a state that does recognize same-sex marriage while your claim was pending, your marriage would be recognized for the purpose of Veterans' benefits based on the law of your new place of residence.

Q: What if I move to a state that recognizes same-sex marriage after my claim or application was denied?

A:You may file a new claim or application based on your new residence.

Q: What if I got married outside of the United States?

A:The law requires VA to recognize marriages for VA purposes according to the law of the place where the parties resided, not the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated. Thus, whether VA could recognize your marriage for VA purposes would depend on whether the place where you or your spouse resided at the time of the marriage or the place where you or your spouse resided when you filed your claim (or a later date when you became eligible for benefits) would recognize your marriage.

Q: What if I resided outside of the United States at the time of my marriage or when I filed my claim?

A:VA would consider the law of the foreign jurisdiction in determining if your marriage meets the requirements of section 103(c) and can be recognized for the purpose of VA benefits and services.

Q: The Department of Defense recognized my marriage-will VA?

A:It depends. For certain benefits where eligibility is based on something other than an individual's Veteran status (e.g. Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI), Family SGLI, transfers of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, and Dependents' Educational Assistance benefits that are established based on a relationship to a Servicemember), VA may recognize marriages that are recognized by the Department of Defense (DoD). However, for most other spousal benefits and services provided by VA, the law only permits VA to recognize a marriage if the law of the place where the Veteran or the Veteran's spouse resided at the time of the marriage or the place where the Veteran or the Veteran's spouse resided when they filed the claim (or a later date when you became eligible for benefits) would recognize your marriage. Accordingly, in most instances, VA cannot rely upon DoD's recognition of a marriage, but must apply the law governing recognition of marriages for VA benefits and services. In some instances, this law may preclude VA from recognizing a marriage that was previously recognized by DoD for the purpose of DoD benefits and services.

Q: What if VA has recognized my marriage for a different benefit?

A:Once VA has recognized a marriage for the purpose of a VA benefit or service, it will usually recognize it for other benefits or services unless there is a factual change in marital status, such as through judicial action.

Q: What if I move to a state that recognizes same-sex marriage after my Veteran spouse dies?

A:If you are a surviving spouse and reside in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage at the time that you file your claim for benefits or services, VA will recognize your marriage based on the law of your current place of residence.

Q: I am a Veteran enrolled in VA health care. Will this change in the law affect my eligibility?

A:Enrollment of Veterans in Priority Groups 5, 7, and 8 is based on income of the Veteran and the Veteran's spouse. For Veterans in these priority groups, the impact of VA recognizing a same-sex spouse and including spousal income will vary. For example, inclusion of a spouse's income may result in the Veteran being moved to a lower priority group (e.g. 5 to 8) and being required to pay copayments for care the Veteran receives. Recognition of a same-sex spouse could also result in the Veteran being moved to a higher priority group, for example, if the spouse does not have income to report. The inclusion of spousal income would not result in a Veteran who is currently enrolled in VA health care being disenrolled. Information on income thresholds is available here www.va.gov/healthbenefits/cost/income_thresholds.asp.

Q: I am considering applying for VA health care or previously applied for VA health care and was denied based on income. Will this change in the law affect my eligibility?

A:For Veterans who are not currently enrolled in VA health care, it is possible that recognition of a same-sex spouse and inclusion of spousal income could either render the Veteran eligible to enroll or preclude the Veteran from being eligible to enroll. This will depend on the impact of the spousal income on the couple's household income relative to the applicable income threshold. Information on income thresholds is available here http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/cost/income_thresholds.asp.

Q: If my marriage is recognized for the purposes of VA benefits, what benefits may I be eligible for?

A:To learn more about VA benefits, go to http://www.va.gov/opa/newtova.asp.

Q: What benefits may my spouse be eligible for?

A:To learn more about VA benefits for dependents and survivors, go to www.va.gov/opa/persona/dependent_survivor.asp and www.va.gov/hac/forbeneficiaries/champva/champva.asp

Q: Will VA recognize my domestic partnership or civil union for purposes of VA benefits?

A:For purposes of VA benefits and services, VA will recognize as marriages only those relationships that are recognized as "marriages" under state law.

It will not recognize a domestic partnership or civil union that is not recognized as a "marriage" under state law as a marriage for VA purposes. For requests for burial in a VA national cemetery only, an individual in a domestic partnership or civil union may request that the Secretary designate the decedent as eligible under 38 U.S.C. 2402(a)(6). National Cemetery Administration (NCA) staff will advise the applicant of this option.

Q:What States Recognize Same-Sex Marriage?

A:For an updated list, see above.

Q:Can VA confirm that the surviving same-sex spouse of a deceased Veteran, who is already interred in a VA national cemetery, will be eligible for interment with the Veteran?

A:VA determines eligibility for burial and memorial benefits at an individual's time of need. We recommend gathering and maintaining information that may be helpful to VA in determining eligibility for interment at the appropriate time. For more information, please refer to the NCA website and the fact sheet "Arranging Burial in a National Cemetery."

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