At the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala in New York City Saturday, and in a Monday memo, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would apply this summer’s ruling overturning a key provision of the federal ban on same-sex marriage to all instances in which it has jurisdiction.
“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,” Holder said at the HRC fundraiser.
Among the memo’s stipulations, married same-sex couples will now be treated equal to married heterosexual couples in bankruptcy courts and federal prisons; be able to claim marital privilege in federal court cases; and same-sex spouses of police officers and other law-enforcement personnel killed in the line of duty will be granted full survivors’ benefits.
“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “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.”
Federal recognition for same-sex marriage has been gradually unfurling since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Since that time, several federal agencies have announced that they would recognize legal same-sex marriages based on where the couple was married, regardless of whether their state of residence recognizes same-sex marriage.
Griffin added that Holder has been instrumental in fueling that process.
“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,” Griffin said.
Holder also likened the LGBT-rights movement to the 1960s civil-rights movement.
“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 runs just as deep,” he said. “Just like during the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation’s struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher.”
The announcement was applauded throughout the country, including in Pennsylvania, which remains the only state in the Northeast without same-sex marriage.
“For committed couples all over the commonwealth, this announcement will come as welcome news,” said Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin. “Now, all legally married couples will receive the same protections as any other married couple under federal law in these important areas. However, until all committed couples in Pennsylvania have the same freedom to marry, we will not have equal protection under the law — and that is what all Pennsylvanians deserve.”