The federal government won’t recognize same-sex couples, but it can pay benefits to their children. That’s the result of a U.S. Department of Justice opinion released June 9. According to the opinion, federal law does not prohibit the Social Security Administration from paying insurance benefits to the nonbiological child of a partner in a Vermont civil union. The decision is notable because the Defense of Marriage Act bars the government from extending federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples.

The opinion was written by Steven Engel, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. OLC, which provides legal guidance to the executive branch, was responding to a request from Thomas Crawley, the acting general counsel of the Social Security Administration. Crawley asked whether the Defense of Marriage Act would bar the payment of Social Security child insurance benefits to the son of the Vermont couple.

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