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DOJ announces new federal rights for same-sex married couples

Since the 1996 enactment of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, states have been allowed to forgo legal recognition of same-sex marriages entered into and deemed legal in other states. The law long enabled states barring same-sex marriages to argue against the recognition of same-sex couples as “spouses” under federal laws.

That argument was greatly undermined by a seminal United States Supreme Court ruling issued last summer pursuant to which the court repealed a provision of the 1996 legislation that defined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman.

The ruling is of critical importance to same-sex couples seeking federal benefits across a wide spectrum, and new policies were announced by myriad federal agencies in its wake that expanded the rights of married gay partners.

The IRS, for example, stated that legally married same-sex couples can now file federal tax returns, notwithstanding their residence in a state that does not legally recognize their marriage. The Department of Defense now grants military spousal benefits to gay married couples.

And earlier this month, in what was described as “the latest application” of the high court’s ruling, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says that the Department of Justice and other agencies will expand gay married partners’ rights to federal benefits even further.

Holder stated that same-sex married couples should be eligible to file jointly for bankruptcy. He additionally noted that support duties including alimony should be allowed to be legally pursued in the event of a same-sex divorce.

Other expanded rights to federal benefits are also forthcoming. They include the same right that heterosexual married couples have to not testify against a former or ex-spouse in a criminal or civil matter.

The LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign heartily endorsed Holder’s statements and the announced changes.

“Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness to all,” stated the group’s president, Chad Griffin.

Source: ABC News, "Holder applies same-sex marriage ruling to Justice," Pete Yost, Feb. 8, 2014

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