Following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor — which struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — the Obama administration took steps to extend federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. Attorney General Eric Holder recently issued a memo that describes the steps the Department of Justice (DOJ) is taking to implement the Windsor decision and continue the extension of federal benefits to married same-sex couples — the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
For example, same-sex spouses will be able to file for domestic support, including alimony and for DOJ programs that provide compensation to surviving spouses of public safety officers. Same-sex couples can file jointly for bankruptcy and they can invoke marital privilege freeing couples of the worry of having to incriminate their spouse during court proceedings. If they or their spouse are incarcerated, they can receive the same benefits as married straight couples — such as exchanging correspondence and visitation rights.
Marriage of same-sex couples is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. This policy reiterates the Obama administration’s principle that, if a marriage was celebrated in a state where it is legal, it will be recognized by the federal government even if the couple moves to a state that does not recognize their marriage.
We applaud Attorney General Eric Holder’s commitment to ensuring equal treatment by recognizing valid marriages of same-sex couples as broadly as possible and using the tools and legal authority of the DOJ to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. Attorney General Holder’s historic directive to all members of the Department of Justice ensures that same-sex couples in valid marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex couples under federal law.