Department of Justice Extends Marital Rights to Legally Married Same-Gender Couples

By Albert Lin

Attorney General Eric Holder issued a policy memo on Monday formally instructing Department of Justice employees to grant the same rights to legally married same-gender couples that the DOJ affords to other married couples.

Holder wrote: “It is the Department’s policy, to the extent federal law permits, to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, and to recognize all marriages valid in the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated.”

Read the full policy memo here.

In a speech at a Human Rights Campaign gala on Saturday announcing the memo, Holder said, “This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding, and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United Statesthey will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law. And this policy has important, real-world implications for same-sex married couples that interact with the criminal justice system.”

For example:

Same-gender spouses will be allowed to claim marital privilege to not testify against a spouse. This will apply even in states that do not recognize same-gender marriage. (Seventeen states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-gender marriage.)

Same-gender spouses will be allowed to file for bankruptcy jointly, and their assets will have the same protections as opposite-gender couples.

Federal inmates married to a same-gender spouse will be allowed the same privileges as inmates in opposite-gender marriages, including correspondence, visitation and other considerations (attending a spouse’s funeral, going on furlough to be present during a crisis involving a spouse, compassionate release or a reduction in sentence based on a spouse’s health).

Same-gender spouses will also be allowed to apply for benefit programs such as those for spouses of police officers or firefighters injured or killed in the line of duty.

Video of Holder’s speech is below:

“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” said Chad Griffin, President of Human Rights Campaign. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all. Attorney General Holder continues to show incredible leadership, and this latest action cements his place in history alongside Robert F. Kennedy, another Attorney General who crusaded for civil rights.”

Holder also invoked RFK and the civil-rights movement, saying, “The Justice Department’s role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy’s time. As Attorney General, I will not let this department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history.”

Opponents of same-gender marriage were quick to attack the decision.

“This is just the latest in a series of moves by the Obama administration, and in particular the Department of Justice, to undermine the authority and sovereignty of the states to make their own determinations regulating the institution of marriage,” said Brian Brown, President of National Organization for Marriage. “The changes being proposed here to a process as universally relevant as the criminal justice system serve as a potent reminder of why it is simply a lie to say that redefining marriage doesn’t affect everyone in society.”

“While the Holder Justice Department has no time to investigate Fast and Furious or Benghazi, where Americans lost their lives, it has plenty for gay ‘rights,'” said Sandy Rios, Director of Governmental Affairs for American Family Association. “I guess you could say money and privilege for homosexuals trumps life and liberty for other Americans.”

The DOJ announcement follows the Treasury Department’s statement that it will recognize all legal same-gender marriages for federal tax purposes.

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