Eric Holder is due to speak at the Human Rights Campaign's gala in New York City tonight. According to multiple sources, he plans to announce an expanded package of federal benefits for same-sex couples. Holder will issue a directive on Monday officially implementing these changes.
Holder said the new benefits will apply to gay couples who are legally married, even to those who live in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.Same-sex spouses will also have the same visitation rights in federal prisons as straight spouses, and inmates with same-sex spouses will also be eligible for compassionate release or reductions in sentences if their loved ones are sick. Same-sex couples will also be treated the same as straight couples in federal bankruptcy cases.
The moves are the latest in a series of actions following the US Supreme Court’s ruling in June that struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had barred the federal government from recognizing legally valid same-sex marriages.
As a result of the new measures announced Saturday, “our nation moves closer to its ideals of equality and fairness for all,” said Chad Griffin of Human Rights Campaign.
Under the new directive, government lawyers will operate under the assumption that same-sex spouses should have the same rights in federal courts as opposite-sex couples, such as declining to testify against a spouse. That rule will apply in federal criminal and civil cases, Holder said, “even in states where same-sex marriages are not recognized.”
Same-sex couples will also receive federal death benefits and educational payments given to surviving spouses of public safety officers who suffer catastrophic injuries or die in the line of duty.
“The federal government should stand by that hero’s spouse — no matter whether that spouse is straight or gay,” Holder said.
To put it mildly, this is long overdue. It's going to be mighty interesting to see the fundie reaction to this.