On February 8, 2014, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder announced that same-sex spouses will be given equal protection under the law in every program the Justice Department administers – from courthouse proceedings to prison visits to the compensation of surviving spouses of public-safety officers. He announced the new policy during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on Saturday night.
“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 told the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equal (LGBT) rights.
As of Monday (Feb. 10), legally-married same-sex spouses should be eligible to receive alimony, file for bankruptcy jointly, enjoy spousal visitation and correspondence rights if one spouse is a federal prison inmate, and they can no longer be compelled to testify against each other – all rights and privileges formerly reserved for heterosexual marriages only.
Holder applied a landmark Supreme Court ruling to the Justice Department, which runs a number of benefits programs. In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruling struck down a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. After the historic ruling, the Treasury Department and the IRS said that all legally-married gay couples could file joint federal tax returns, even if they reside in states that did not recognize same-sex marriages.
For more information about the June 2013 Supreme Court ruling – “UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR” – go to: www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/12-307
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