Same-sex married couples to get more federal benefits

Supreme Court gay marriage DOMA

The U.S. government will recognize same-sex marriages as equal to traditional marriages in all federal matters, including in U.S. courts, bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday.

The expansion of such federal recognition¬†will include 34 states where same-sex marriage isn’t legal, but the new federal benefits being extended to those states will apply only where the U.S. government has jurisdiction, Holder said.

For example, a same-sex couple legally married in Massachusetts can now have their federal bankruptcy proceeding recognized in Alabama, even though it doesn’t allow same-sex marriages. In the past, the U.S. government could challenge the couple’s joint bankruptcy because Alabama doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

Holder’s announcement was revealed in an advance copy of a speech he will deliver at the Human Rights Campaign’s New York City gala Saturday night.

Holder plans to announce that the Justice Department will issue a memo Monday that recognizes same-sex marriages “to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

The move affects how millions of Americans interact with their federal government, including bankruptcy cases, prison visitation rights, survivor benefits for police officers and firefighters killed on the job, and the legal right to refuse to testify to incriminate a spouse.

“This means that, 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 of his initiative.