The US Department of Justice (DOJ) released a memo to its employees Monday that same-sex marriages will be given equal protection under the law in all of its programs – even if the marriages are not recognized in the state where the same-sex couple lives. The announcement will allow same-sex couples to enjoy federal benefits through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program, and the US Trustee Program.
Announcing the new policy at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. also noted that the DOJ would recognize same-sex couples’ marital privilege not to testify in civil and criminal cases and allow federal inmates in same-sex marriages to visit and correspond with their spouses and enjoy furloughs during a crisis involving a spouse. The expansion will include 34 states where same-sex marriage is not yet legal, granting expanded access to benefits and rights afforded to opposite-sex couples to millions of Americans.
“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,” said Holder, “they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law.”
The DOJ announcement follows other policy changes by the Department of Defense, Office of Personnel Management, Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security, which were prompted by the US Supreme Court’s historic decision in US v. Windsor.
Holder went on to relate the victory to those of the Civil Rights Movement. “We are, right now, in the middle of marking a number of 50-year anniversaries of key milestones in the Civil Rights Movement,” he said. “And yet, as all-important as the fight against racial discrimination was then, and remains today, know this: my commitment to confronting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity runs just as deep. Just as was true during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation’s struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher. And so 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 never let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history. We will act.”
Media Resources: US Department of Justice 2/10/13; CNN 2/10/2014; Associated Press 2/8/2014; Washington Post 2/8/2014; Feminist News 6/26/2013