The Justice Department announced a number of changes this weekend that will give same-sex marriages in the country some benefits of equal protection.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced the changes Saturday in a speech to a gay rights lobbying ground in New York. One of those changes was the legal right for gay couples not to testify against each other in civil and criminal cases.
“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 said.
Also under the new policy, federal inmates in same-sex marriages will be entitled to visitation by spouse, escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral, correspondence with spouse and compassionate release or reduction in sentence, which is based on the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse.
Same-sex married couples will also be able to file for bankruptcy jointly, and there will be domestic support obligations, such as alimony.
“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “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.”
The National Organization for Marriage, however, disagreed.
“The American public needs to realize how egregious and how dangerous these usurpations are and how far-reaching the implications can be,” said Brian Brown, the group’s president. “The changes being proposed here … serve as a potent reminder of why it is simply a lie to say that redefining marriage doesn’t affect everyone in society.”
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government cannot refuse to recognize same-sex marriages that were sanctioned in states that allow them. Currently, gay marriage is allowed in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
Publication Date: February 11, 2014.