Politics

Gay Married Couples' New Federal Rights Problematic for Some States

February 10, 2014

The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat on Sunday welcomed Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s move to extend the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage to the Justice Department, while a key Republican said the move could create more strife between the federal government and the states.

Mr. Holder announced over the weekend 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.

“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,” Mr. Holder said at a Human Rights Campaign event in New York.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, called the move “logical,” “consistent, and “compassionate.”

“There are those who do not recognize this politically, who oppose it politically, but if you really accept the premise that there should be marriage equality at the federal level when it comes to recognizing the right to benefits, for example, the attorney general is saying we’re going to apply the same rules as we do for other married couples for same-sex couples when it comes to our courts,” Mr. Durbin said Sunday on CBS‘ “Face the Nation.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the attorney general's decision on federal benefits for same-sex couples is "logical, consistent and compassionate." (associated press photographs)

The Justice Department runs a number of benefits programs, and Mr. 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.

“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “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.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, said on CBS on Sunday that the move would not be an issue for a state like hers, which already recognizes same-sex marriage.

“But it appears to be another example of the Obama administration imposing its will on the states,” she said. “It could be an issue for other states that are having this debate or have made different policy decisions.”

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