US Attorney General says Justice Department will aggressively defend equal marriage

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

US Attorney General Eric Holder says the US Government will recognise equal marriage regardless of individual states’ position.

Mr Holder said the Justice Department will issue a memo on Monday that recognises same-sex marriages “to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

The federal expansion will include 34 states where equal marriage isn’t legal, but the new federal benefits being extended to those states will apply only where the US Government has jurisdiction.

“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,” Mr Holder announced.

Just as in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Mr Holder claimed, the stakes in the current generation over same-sex marriage rights “could not be higher”.

“The Justice Department’s role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy’s time,” Mr Holder said of the former attorney general former.

The Justice Department runs a number of benefits programmes. Mr Holder said same-sex couples will now 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.

The Justice Department will also recognise same-sex spouses of individuals involved in civil and criminal cases, stating that they should have the same legal rights as all other married couples, including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate their spouse.

In a statement, Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, said: “This 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,” Mr Griffin added.

The decision is the latest application of the US Supreme Court 2013 ruling that struck down a provision in the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.