Saturday, February 08, 2014

AG Holder Reaffirms Married Same-Sex Couples Eligible For ALL Federal Benefits

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
United States Attorney General Eric Holder told an audience at a gala dinner of the nation's largest LGBT advocacy organization that the Justice Department is fully implementing the landmark Supreme Court decision United States v. Windsor that invalidated the defense of marriage act, resulting in more tangible federal benefits for legally married same-sex couples throughout the country.

A summary of the policy changes is:
Each of the changes is related to the way the Justice Department handles recognition of married same-sex couples. They range from rights in civil and criminal cases, rights as inmates and access to benefits programs:
• The Justice Department will recognize that same-sex spouses of individuals involved in civil and criminal cases have the same legal rights as straight married couples, including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate a spouse.
This new rule applies in non-marriage equality states. The government won't object to couples in same-sex marriages invoking this right if they marry in another state, but their current jurisdiction doesn't recognize their union.
• In bankruptcy cases, the U.S. Trustee Program will take the position that same-sex married couples should be treated in the same manner as opposite-sex married couples. Consequently, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly; certain debts to same-sex spouses or former spouses will be excepted from discharge; and domestic support obligations should include debts, including alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse.
• Federal inmates in same-sex marriages will be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in opposite-sex marriages. These rights include spousal visitation; 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 if an inmate’s spouse is incapacitated.
• The Justice Department will recognize same-sex couples for the purposes of a number of benefits programs it administers, such as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
Also among these programs is the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, which provides death benefits to surviving spouses of public safety officers, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, who suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries while on duty.
This is not surprising since the Social Security Administration and the Defense Department have already announced that they are fully implementing the Windsor decision as well. However, this is good news that the nation's "top cop" is strongly supportive of eliminating discrimination against legally married same-sex couples by the federal government.

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