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Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions

Federal Justice Department
gives same-sex and
opposite-sex marriages
equal protection in all
its programs.

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As of 2014-FEB-10, the federal Justice Department will give lawful same-sex marriages equal protection under the law in every program that it administers. This includes lawsuits in federal courts, prison visites by married same-sex spouses, financial compensation to surviving spouses of public safety offices, etc. These apply even if the state where the same-sex couple -- or surviving spouse -- lives does not recognize same-sex marriages.

On 2014-FEB-08, Attorney General Eric Holder revealed this new policy at an annual gala of the Human Rights Campaign in New York, NY. He said:

"On Monday, I will issue a new policy memorandum that will -- for the first time in history -- formally instruct all Justice Department employees to give lawful same - sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law

"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.
And this policy has important, real-world implications for same- sex married couples that interact with the criminal justice system. ..."

In this great country, we move faster, we reach farther, and we climb higher whenever we stand together as one. That’s why this Administration, this Department of Justice –- and this Attorney General -- will never stop fighting to ensure equal protection. We will never rest in our efforts to safeguard the civil rights to which everyone in this country is entitled. And we will never waver in our determination to build on the progress we’ve seen -- and bring about the changes our citizens deserve. ..."

"We are, right now, in the middle of marking a number of 50 - year anniversaries of key milestones in the Civil Rights Movement –- from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in 1963, to this summer’s anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ..."

And yet, as all-important as the fight against racial discrimination was then, and remains today, know this: my commitment to confronting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity runs just as deep. Just as was true during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation’s struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher. Then, as now, nothing less than our country’s founding commitment to the notion of equal protection under the law was at stake. And so the Justice Department’s role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert
Kennedy’s time. As Attorney General, I will never let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history. We will act." 1

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Reactions to the Attorney General's speech:

Reactions are as expected. Religious and social conservatives were outraged; the LGBT community, religious and social liberals, and civil rights groups were enthusiastic, and the mainline news media reported the news straight up:

  • Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement:

    "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." 2

  • Brian Brown is president of the National Organization for Marriage -- a group solely devoted to the prevention of same-sex marriage everywhere in the U.S. He responded:

    "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. 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." 3

  • CNN commented:

    "In a major milestone for gay rights, the United States government plans to expand recognition of same-sex marriages in federal legal matters, including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will issue a memo Monday that recognizes same-sex marriages "to the greatest extent possible under the law." The federal expansion 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. 3

  • Tony Perkins. president of Family Research Council issued a statement:

    "The news that the Justice Department will extend sweeping recognition to 'marriages' of same-sex couples, even in states that do not recognize such unions, is yet another illustration of the lawlessness of this administration.

    "While the Supreme Court's ruling in the Windsor case last summer required the federal government to recognize such unions in states which also recognize them, the Court was conspicuously silent on the status of such couples when they reside in a state which considers them unmarried. The Obama administration's haste to nevertheless recognize such unions in every state actually runs counter to the Windsor decision's emphasis on the federal government's obligation to defer to state definitions of marriage.

    "Attorney General Holder's announcement -- like his recognition of same-sex 'marriages' in Utah despite the Supreme Court granting a stay of the District Court decision overturning that state's definition of marriage -- illustrates the importance of Congressional action to pass the State Marriage Defense Act (H.R. 3829), introduced by Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas). It would require the federal government to defer to state definitions of marriage -- as required by Windsor -- by not treating persons as 'married' when they are unmarried according to the law of their state of legal residence." 4

  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois called the announcement a logical extension of the administration's response to last year's Supreme Court decision. He said:

    "It's logical. It's consistent. It's compassionate." 5

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) of New Hampshire was asked on CBS about the possibility of a pushback by Republicans. She responded tiat it is possible, but not in New Hampshire, where same sex marriage is legal. She said:

    "It could be an issue for other states." 5

  • Some recations by individual readers of the Wall Street Journal article were:
    • Matthew Berger posted:

      "So much for it being left up to the states. The first of many "executive orders" from BHO.

      All that being said I agree with the outcome, it's the classification of the union as a marriage that I disagree with. A marriage is a religious relationship between a man and a woman. Take that term out of the equation and the LBGT community would have more supporters."

    • Dan Jones replied to Berger:

      "If marriage is a religious designation then it shouldn't be afforded any governmental recognition. Since government does grant it many special privileges marriage becomes a right and, as such, it should not discriminate."

    • Jacob Maczuga posted:

      "Another of the administration's misdirections."

    • John Boebinger replied to Maczuga:

      "In a sense, you are right. This could have been done as a one at a time implementation of regulations being published in CFR. Instead it was grandly announced at a conference. The intention is to get the right wing loudmouths all riled up so they were engage in all their usual attacks on gays. This will further turn off young voters towards the GOP heading into the fall elections.

      Every year, the right loses about a million votes as they die off to be replaced by about a million young voters who do not share their elders bigotry. Holder's very public actions are being done to further reenforce that." 5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Remarks as prepared for delivery ..." Department of Justice, 20`4-FEB-08, at: This is another accursed PDF file.
  2. "Justice Department to give married same-sex couples equal protection," Washington Post, 2014-FEB-08, at:
  3. Sari Horowitz, Evan Perez, "Feds to expand legal benefits, services for same-sex marriages," CNN, 2014-FEB-09, at:
  4. "Justice Department Announcement Illustrates Administration's Lawlessness, says Family Research Council," CNBC, 2014-FEB-08, at:
  5. Dev;om Barrett, "Holder Widens Rights for Gay Married Couples Wall Street Journal," 2014-FEB-09, at:

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Copyright 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2014-FEB-10
Latest update and review: 2014-FEB-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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