DOJ Plans To Recognize More Rights For Same-Sex Couples

Attorney General Eric Holder is to announce that the same-sex couples will treated the same as heterosexual couples in court proceedings, prison visitation and law-enforcement benefit programs.

Gay marriage is permitted in only 17 of the 50 U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia. Photo: Mad Hausfrau/ Flickr

The U.S. government will recognize same-sex marriages as equal to traditional marriages in all federal matters, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was preparing to issue policies aimed at eliminating the distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex married couples in the federal criminal justice system, according to excerpts from a speech prepared for a Saturday event organized by a prominent gay-rights group.

“In every courthouse, in every proceeding, and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States — they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,” Holder is to tell a Human Rights Campaign dinner, according to excerpts of his speech released in advance.

“The department will recognize that same-sex spouses of individuals involved in civil and criminal cases should have the same legal rights as all other married couples – including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate their spouse. The government will not object to an individual in a same-sex marriage invoking this right on the ground that the marriage is not recognized in the state where the couple lives,” Holder plans to say.

Federal prisoners who have a same-sex spouse will also be treated just as those with opposite-sex spouses, according to the expected announcement.

Under the new policy, the Justice Department will recognize that same-sex spouses of individuals involved in civil and criminal cases should have the same legal rights as all other married couples – including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate their spouses.

The department’s new policy comes three years after the Justice Department said it would not defend cases in court involving the Defense of Marriage Act anymore. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional.

Speaking before Sweden’s Parliament a few days ago, Mr. Holder called fighting for gay and lesbian rights one of “the defining civil rights challenges of our time.”

In his speech Saturday night, Holder plans to point to the legacy of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Kennedy’s top deputy, Nick Katzenbach, who helped force the integration of the University of Alabama, allowing Holder’s late sister-in-law to attend the school as one of its first black students.

Holder’s announcement was revealed in an advance copy of a speech he will deliver at the Human Rights Campaign’s New York City gala Saturday night.

A written memo to department employees will follow on Monday. It will “formally instruct all department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law,” according to the excerpts.

The new policy will have “important, real-world implications for same-sex married couples that interact with the criminal justice system,” Holder said.

While the changes may not affect large numbers of people, the gay advocacy community views them as another important step in the growing movement toward gender-based equality since the Supreme Court issued two rulings last June that expanded the rights of gay couples, says LA Times.

“While the immediate effect is that all gay married couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound,” said Fred Saintz, vice president for communications at the Human Rights Campaign, which Holder will address Saturday night. “Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”

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