The administration yesterday announced that it will allow same-sex military spouses to receive marriage benefits like hospital visitation rights and side-by-side burials in military ceremonies:

In a letter to the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the Justice Department shared the view of plaintiffs in a lawsuit in Massachusetts that such laws — including a part of the Defense of Marriage Act, and statutes governing veterans’ benefits —are unconstitutional. …

The legislative record of these provisions contains no rationale for providing veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex spouses of veterans but not to legally married same-sex spouses of veterans,” he wrote. “Neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs identified any justifications for that distinction that could warrant treating these provisions differently from” the marriage act.

Two past administration decisions make this news decidedly not surprising. In the first place, the Justice Department has for months refused to defend a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (never mind that it’s law!). In the second, the Pentagon recently decided to allow military chaplains to perform same-sex marriages on and off federal bases.

News like this makes me ponder anew Ed’s opinion that the government should get out of the marriage business entirely. Perhaps he’s right. The benefits addressed by this decision have nothing to do with the religious meaning of marriage; they’re strictly practical matters. If I were in the military, I’d like to be able to confer hospital visitation rights on a person of my choosing no matter what their relation to me. Same story with side-by-side burials.

More importantly, though, news like this makes me extra sensitive to the religious liberty battle that’s waging across the country right now. We need conscience protections for military chaplains and, indeed, for all people of faith, to ensure that we’re never required to recognize same-sex marriage as an ordinance or sacrament of God.