Magazine article The Christian Century

Justice Department Extends Rights to Same-Sex Couples

Magazine article The Christian Century

Justice Department Extends Rights to Same-Sex Couples

Article excerpt

IN A MAJOR VICTORY for same-sex marriage rights, the Justice Department will soon grant married gay and lesbian couples the same rights in legal matters as other married couples.

The new policy, announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on February 8 in New York, marks the latest step by the Obama administration to extend to same-sex couples the rights extended to married heterosexual couples.

"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 in prepared remarks to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equal rights.

The Justice Department issued a memo to its employees instructing them to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition to the greatest extent possible under the law. Gay marriage is currently legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Holder, the first African-American attorney general, has frequently compared the struggles of extending rights to same-sex couples to the civil rights movement, a reference he made again in announcing the changes.

"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," Holder said. "Then, as now, nothing less than our country's commitment to the notion of equal protection under the law was on the line."

Under the new guidelines, same-sex couples would not be forced to testify in court against their spouse and would receive the same visitation rights as other married couples in prison. The Justice Department's policy will also allow same-sex married couples to apply for federal programs such as the September 11th Fund to compensate victims of the terrorist attacks.

"This policy has important, real-world implications for same-sex married couples that interact with the criminal justice system," Holder said.

Opponents of gay marriage were quick to criticize the Obama administration. …

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