US Attorney General announces additional legal protections for married couples

This weekend, United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would issue a memo to recognize marriages between same-sex couples - even in states without the freedom to marry - "to the greatest extent possible under the law." The announcement adds a number of federal protections and responsibilities of marriage - including filing joint bankruptcy, visiting spouses in federal prison, refusing to testify against their spouse in federal court, and sharing in death benefits to surviving spouses of police officers and firefighters who are injured or killed in the line of duty- to a long list of benefits that legally married same-sex couples can share in, no matter where they live.

On Monday, February 10, the Department of Justice released the memo, formalizing the federal government position that the "place of celebration" - the state where a couple marries - will be the default position of respecting marriages between same-sex couples. 

Attorney General Holder explained at the HRC dinner:

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.

Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson applauded the policy today. He said:

Today's announcement by the Department of Justice will have an immediate, tangible impact on tens of thousands of married couples and their families all across the country. By increasing the federal programs and protections afforded to married gay couples, including those living in states that still discriminate, the Attorney General continues to show his commitment to the constitutional imperative of equal treatment under the law. The federal government has taken another step to putting its moral and legal weight on the side of the freedom to marry.

Last year, the Department of Justice worked to expand many federal protections to legally married same-sex couples in its implementation of the June 2013 Supreme Court ruling striking down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. These protections include: sponsoring a spouse of the same-sex for a green card, filing federal taxes as a married couple, receiving military spousal benefits, and spousal benefits for gay and lesbian military veterans. 

AG Holder has been a strong and consistent voice for the freedom to marry, taking many opportunities to stand up for justice and support equality for gay and lesbian people and their spouses. In the past year, he has worked with the Obama administration to ensure a fair, thorough implementation of the Supreme Court ruling, and just last month, he clarified that the marriage licenses issued by the state of Utah between December 20 and January 6 - licenses that the state of Utah said it would not honor - would be recognized by the federal government. 

This weekend's announcement is another example of the administration's commitment to protecting same-sex couples and their families. We applaud the Attorney General for their fidelity to the law, the freedom to marry, and the Constitution’s command of equality.