US Attorney General Eric Holder will expand government recognition of same-sex marriages in all federal courtrooms and prisons tomorrow.
It will ensure they receive the same benefits as heterosexual ones.
The move, which Holder announced at a gay rights dinner gala in New
York, marks a major gain for advocates of same-sex couples after the
Supreme Court issued two rulings expanding gay marriage rights last
Under the new policy, same-sex couples will enjoy the privileges even
in states that do not recognize their marriages, so long as they
legally wed in another state.
Among the key benefits the Justice Department will now ensure are
extended to same-sex couples are the compensation fund for the 11
September, 2001 attacks, as well as death and educational benefits for
the surviving spouses of police officers and firefighters injured or
killed in the line of duty.
"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.
Same-sex couples would also be held to the same legal standard as
their heterosexual counterparts on matters such as how debts are handled
in federal bankruptcy proceedings and visitation policies at federal
prisons, as well as compassionate release or sentence reductions in
certain cases of crisis involving their spouse.
Advocates of gay rights immediately hailed the decision.
landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay
and lesbian couples for the better. 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," said Chad
Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, whose gala was the site of
"Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all."
But conservatives blasted the decision, suggesting President Barack
Obama's administration had chosen a liberal interpretation of the
Supreme Court rulings.
"The news that the Justice Department will extend sweeping
recognition to 'marriages' of same-sex couples, even in states that do
not recognize such unions, is yet another illustration of the
lawlessness of this administration," Family Research Council president
Tony Perkins said in a statement.
The policy memorandum will "formally instruct all (Justice)
Department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal
recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law," Holder
The first African American attorney general also stressed that his
predecessors played a key role in the civil rights movement half a
"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," Mr Holder said.