WASHINGTON (AP) — In an assertion of same-sex marriage rights, Attorney General Eric Holder is applying a landmark Supreme Court ruling to the Justice Department, announcing Saturday that same-sex spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other, should be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly and are entitled to the same rights and privileges as federal prison inmates in opposite-sex marriages.
The Justice Department runs a number of benefits programs, and Holder says same-sex couples will qualify for them. They include the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and benefits to surviving spouses of public safety officers who suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries 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 said in prepared remarks to the Human Rights Campaign in New York. The advocacy group works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights.
Just as in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the stakes in the current generation over same-sex marriage rights "could not be higher," said Holder.
"The Justice Department's role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy's time," Holder said of the attorney general who played a leadership role in advancing civil rights.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said Holder's "landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better. 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."
Holder's speech was criticized by the conservative National Organization for Marriage.
"This is just the latest in a series of moves by the Obama administration, and in particular the Department of Justice, to undermine the authority and sovereignty of the states to make their own determinations regulating the institution of marriage," said Brian Brown, the group's president. "The changes being proposed here to a process as universally relevant as the criminal justice system serve as a potent reminder of why it is simply a lie to say that redefining marriage doesn't affect everyone in society."
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