Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce added recognition for married same-sex couples, even those in the 34 states where same-sex marriage is not legal. Same-sex couples will now be treated like straight couples in court proceedings, prison visitation and law enforcement benefit programs, according to Politico and several other sources.
The comments will be delivered in a speech Holder is giving tonight, Feb. 8, at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala. Holder will also promise that Justice Department lawyers will respect spousal privilege for same-sex couples in court proceedings and that officials will reward full benefits to same-sex spouses of police officers and other public safety personnel killed in the line of duty.
“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 is to tell a Human Rights Campaign dinner, according to excerpts of his speech released in advance.
“The department will recognize that same-sex spouses of individuals involved in civil and criminal cases should have the same legal rights as all other married couples – including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate their spouse. The government will not object to an individual in a same-sex marriage invoking this right on the ground that the marriage is not recognized in the state where the couple lives,” Holder plans to say.
Federal prisoners who have a same-sex spouse will also be treated just as those with opposite-sex spouses, according to the expected announcement.
“Federal inmates in same-sex marriages will also be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in opposite-sex marriages. This includes 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,” Holder’s prepared remarks say.
Holder will also draw direct parallels between the LGBT civil rights struggle and the African-American civil rights struggle.
“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,” the attorney general is to say, drawing a comparison once highly controversial in the black community. “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,” Holder plans to say.
Holder will formally institute the new policies in a memo he will sign on Monday, according to officials.