American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Blog

Justice Department expands recognition of married gay couples

Photograph by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic/Getty.

Today Attorney General Eric Holder released a memo that details expanded recognition for married gay and lesbian couples, regardless of where they live.

As long a couple is legally married in a country, state or city with marriage equality, the Justice Department will treat them as legally married. A few applications of this new rule include:

  • The right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate their spouse in a federal case.
  • The ability to file for bankruptcy jointly.
  • Additional privileges for inmates in federal prison, including visitation by a spouse, inmate furloughs to be present during a crisis involving a spouse, escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral, correspondence with a spouse, and compassionate release or reduction in sentence based on the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse.

The memo follows an announcement of these changes at the Human Rights Campaign’s New York Gala, where he gave a stirring speech (full text here and watch the video below):

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. Then, as now, nothing less than our country’s commitment to the notion of equal protection under the law was on the line. And so the Justice Department’s role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy’s time. As Attorney General, I will not let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history.

Following last year’s Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, federal agencies have issued broad and sweeping rights for married same-sex couples. Legally married gay and lesbian couples, regardless of the state they live, are now able to file taxes jointly, sponsor a partner for citizenship, and more.

Watch the Attorney General’s speech and read his memo below:

Justice Department memo by Chris Geidner