Same-Sex Married Couples to Receive Equal Federal Benefits, Says Holder
It's a major(ly late) milestone for LGBT rights: this Monday, the Justice Department will be instructed to expand recognition of gay marriages in all federal matters, giving “lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.” The move, which was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder late Saturday, will finally allow gay couples that which millions of Americans have never had to go without: the legal right to refuse to testify to incriminate a spouse, the ability to apply for joint bankruptcy, and prison visitation rights.
During his speech Saturday night to the Human Rights Campaign in New York, Holder also said that these new federal benefits will apply to legally married same-sex couples across the board — even to those who live in the 34 states that don't recognize gay marriage. "This means that, 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.
He added: "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. As attorney general, I will not let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history."
The announcement comes on the heels of a series of — perhaps smaller, but nonetheless significant — initiatives taken since the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act this summer. Thanks to changes in the IRS and Treasury Department, legally married gay couples can file joint federal tax returns, no matter what state they live in. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management is now ensuring that federal employees see their same-sex spouses receiving benefits; likewise, the Defense Department now grants military spousal benefits to same-sex couples.
The DOJ's move may not affect a majority of gay Americans, but for the few that it does, the differences will be meaningful, to say the least. A gay federal inmate, for example, with a same-sex spouse, will now have full visitation rights; a gay man won't ever be forced to testify against his husband in court. Gay men and women who work for the Justice Department will now see their spouses given the same benefits as all of its other employees; married same-sex couples will be able to file for bankruptcy as a couple. And federal death benefits and educational payments given to surviving spouses of firefighters or police officers killed on the job will now be extended to married same-sex partners, putting an end to one of the most heartless types of legal discrimination.
But, of course, not everyone thinks that gay U.S. citizens should be treated like human beings, because, change sucks, duh.
"The American public needs to realize how egregious and how dangerous these usurpations are and how far-reaching the implications can be," Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a statement. "The changes being proposed here to a process as universally relevant as the criminal justice system serve as a potent reminder of why it is simply a lie to say that redefining marriage doesn't affect everyone in society."
To which we say:
RELATED ON BUSTLE: The Most Homophobic of Your Favorite Companies
Image: Getty Images