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I just learned about this interesting letter from Abraham Lincoln to Sen. Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts.  Lincoln had been visited by the widow of Major Lionel F. Booth, who had been killed at the battle of Fort Pillow while in command of colored (as they were called then) troops.  Apparently the war department was not treating the widows and children of the colored troops who were killed in the battle as being legally married for the purposes of pensions, etc..  Mrs. Booth was seeking to do something about it.

Executive Mansion

Washington, May 19, 1864

Hon. Charles Sumner

My Dear Sir:

The bearer of this is the widow of Major Booth, who fell at Fort Pillow. She makes a point which I think very worthy of consideration which is, widows and children in fact, of Colored soldiers who fell in our service, be placed in law, the same as if their mariages were legal, so that they can have the benefit of the provisions (?) the widows and orphans of white soldiers. Please see and hear Mrs. Booth.

Yours truly

A. Lincoln

What was happening then is still happening now, as veterans have to sue the Veterans Administration to be treated in non-marriage equality states the same way they would be treated in marriage equality states.

Originally posted to Plan 9 from Oregon on Fri Aug 29, 2014 at 11:42 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kossacks for Marriage Equality.


Is it fair for the VA to discriminate against veterans based on whether they live in a marriage equality state or not?

4%2 votes
22%11 votes
68%33 votes
4%2 votes

| 48 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (20+ / 0-)

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Fri Aug 29, 2014 at 11:42:16 AM PDT

  •  Is anyone else surprised and delighted... (6+ / 0-)

    ...that there is a place called Fort Pillow? Yes, I know it's named after a dude named Pillow, but still. As a childhood enjoyer of pillow forts, I literally laughed out loud reading about a location named Fort Pillow.

  •  I had to vote for the simple "hell no" (6+ / 0-)

    For this reason:

    A 1958 statute determines who counts as a veteran’s spouse according to “where the parties resided at the time of the marriage or the law of the place where the parties resided when the right to benefits accrued.” In a June memo, the VA’s general counsel, Will Gunn, noted that this has been the standard for veterans’ benefits since 1882, when similar wording was written into a Civil War widows’ pension statute.
    The search for the "idjets in charge who came up with that one" would be unavailing, as they are surely all dead by now. The law needs to be changed. My suspicion has long been that the "place of residency" provisions that affect VA, Social Security and Railroad Retirement Board pensions were almost certainly put in place in order not to offend the sensibilities of those states that had anti-miscegenation laws on their books.

    It's high time the statutes were updated and that a uniform "place of celebration" standard be put into place for all federal benefits related to marriage.

    •  I meant to include a link... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cartoon Peril, RiveroftheWest

      for the quote above.

      Here it is.

    •  Of course the reason for that interpretation (4+ / 0-)

      was no doubt so that mixed-race marriages wouldn't be recognized outside the marriage equality states of that era.

    •  Seems like the constitution would trump the law (0+ / 0-)


      You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

      by Cartoon Peril on Fri Aug 29, 2014 at 01:52:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Seems that way...however... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cartoon Peril

        I don't think the constitutional implications of using place of celebration vs place of residence in establishing benefit eligibility have been explored all that widely.

        It will be interesting to see how things might pan out if the Supreme Court were to rule that while states must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states, they don't have to allow them to be solemnized in-state. After all, some states permit first cousins to marry while others do not, or do so only in certain circumstances. Generally speaking however, first cousins married in states where they're permitted to do so are generally recognized as married no matter where they might move to. As far as I know, nobody's seen fit to litigate that sort of thing; that is I'm unaware of any state where two first cousins have sued for the right to marry, probably because, unlike gay and lesbian couples,  they always have the option of going elsewhere to marry and then coming home with their marriages recognized.

        Were the court to rule as I've outlined above, how would the "place of residence" rule be applied? Would the fact that a state must recognize the out-of-state marriage be interpreted as meeting the "place of residence" requirement? Or would it not?

        •  If I recall correctly... (4+ / 0-)

          I believe Obama has issued an executive order mandating all federal agencies recognize same-sex marriages, regardless of where performed, to the extent federal law allows them to do so.

          If the VA is still making distinctions based on state of residence, it must be because a statute requires it. Changing that will require Congress to change the law, or (more likely, obviously) the Supreme Court to strike it down.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals."—Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Fri Aug 29, 2014 at 03:05:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think that's what's happened (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Cartoon Peril, skrekk, RiveroftheWest

            It's my understanding, based on the quote I originally used, that the VA's (and Social Security's and the Railroad Retirement Board's) reliance on place of residence is in fact statutory.

            We are either at or near the point beyond which legislation will be needed. Either that or perhaps it may be that the issue will need to be litigated. I'm not sure to what extent that would be successful but if Congress refuses to budge then I suppose it may be worth a shot. If it could be proven that the use of place of residence rather than place of celebration were somehow prejudicial that could, I assume, result in a successful outcome.

            •  pending litigation should do it (0+ / 0-)

              The cases now rapidly making their way to the Supreme Court would, if successful, require all states to (a) issue licenses for same-sex marriages, and (b) recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. That would fix the VA, Social Security, Railroad Retirement problems.

              "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals."—Barack Obama

              by HeyMikey on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 02:34:18 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  A bit of background (4+ / 0-)

    One thing that slaves weren't permitted to do was to marry. The Emancipation Proclamation changed that, but only for slaves who lived in areas regained by the Union Army. Nancy Cott, in her book, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation, noted that among the first things freed slaves did upon their liberation was to get married, usually by petitioning whichever officer of the Union army was most convenient.

    The Proclamation also permitted freed slaves to enlist in the Union Army. However since the Emancipation Proclamation and the letter from Lincoln quoted in the diary above pre-dated the ratification of the 14th Amendment, the legal status of the marriages of African-Americans, even those living in Union states, was murky at best.

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