The federal government will no longer enforce a law that denied lawfully married same-sex couples eligibility for veterans' benefits including health care and home loans, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Wednesday.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision in U.S. v. Windsor, which found unconstitutional Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA defined the term "spouse" as a "person of the opposite sex."

Substantially identical language was contained in sections 101(3) and 101(31) of U.S. Code Title 38, which governs benefits eligibility for veterans and their families, Holder wrote.

"Although the Supreme Court did not directly address the constitutionality of the Title 38 provisions in Windsor, the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that the provisions are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment," he said.

Holder added that U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall in the Central District of California last week found the Title 38 provisions unconstitutional in Cooper-Harris v. U.S. Marshall concluded "that the exclusion of legally married same-sex spouses from veterans benefits is not rationally related to any military interest or other identified government purpose," Holder wrote.

The DOJ had abandoned the defense of those sections 18 months ago. The House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which fought on behalf of the Republican majority to defend DOMA through the appellate courts and to the Supreme Court, withdrew from the Title 38 litigation following Windsor, he added.

"One of the primary interests underlying the earlier decision to continue enforcement of the Title 38 provisions was to allow representatives of Congress to present a defense of those provisions to the judicial branch," Holder wrote. The congressional decision to withdraw "means that continued enforcement would no longer serve that interest."

Contact Todd Ruger at truger@alm.com.