The U.S. Justice Department will expand its recognition of same-sex couples, granting them the same rights and privileges under the law as heterosexual couples.
Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement, which will be delivered to a Human Rights Campaign dinner in New York, will mean more rights for same-sex couples with regard to federal benefits, court proceedings and prison visitations. (Via C-SPAN)
For example, same-sex couples can now refuse to testify against their partner in court, a right previously reserved for heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples can now also file jointly for bankruptcy and be eligible for some federal programs, such as benefits to surviving spouses of police officers killed in the line of duty.
Politico has a copy of the Attorney General's prepared remarks, in which he will reportedly draw a direct parallel between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the fight for gay and lesbian equality today. "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 runs just as deep."
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Holder's remarks represented a landmark decision for same-sex couples.
"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. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all." (Via NPR)
A CNN reporter points out because the changes will take effect on a federal level, Holder's decree will even apply to same-sex couples living in those 34 states which do not recognize their marriage.
"Because this is all federal jurisdiction issues, the Justice Department has the right to do that. The states can't really — this has nothing to do with their laws, this has to do with federal law."
The Justice Department's reforms are an example of President Obama's vow during the recent State of the Union address to wield more executive power to advance his priorities. (Via The White House)
And the Attorney General has been willing to challenge the states on marriage equality before. After state officials refused to recognize about 1,000 same-sex marriages performed in Utah, Holder confirmed those marriages were valid in the eyes of the federal government. (Via U.S. Department of Justice)
Holder's announcement is the Justice Department's latest application of the Supreme Court ruling which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last year.