U.S. Justice Department to expand rights of same-sex couples

Darren Black Bear (L) and Jason Pickel exchange rings as they are married by Darren's father Rev. Floyd Black Bear (R) under a Cheyenne Arapahoe tribal licence in El Reno, Oklahoma. Credit: Reuters
Darren Black Bear (L) and Jason Pickel exchange rings as they are married by Darren’s father Rev. Floyd Black Bear (R) under a Cheyenne Arapahoe tribal licence in El Reno, Oklahoma.
Credit: Reuters

Attorney General Eric Holder plans widespread changes within the U.S. Justice Department to benefit same-sex married couples, such as recognizing a legal right for them not to testify against each other in civil and criminal cases, according to excerpts of a speech on Saturday.

The changes are designed to keep pushing for gay rights in the United States after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year said the federal government cannot refuse to recognize same-sex marriages carried out in states that allow them.

U.S. law has long included a “spousal privilege” that protects communications between a husband and wife so they cannot be forced to be incriminating witnesses against each other in court.

In addition to extending the privilege to same-sex couples in situations involving the Justice Department, Holder said he plans to put same-sex couples on the same legal footing as opposite-sex couples in other areas, including how certain debts are handled in federal bankruptcy proceedings and visitation policies at federal prisons.

“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 in the speech excerpts released in advance.

Holder was scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. (midnight GMT) in New York at an event for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights lobbying organization.

A written memo to department employees will follow on Monday.

The memo will “formally instruct all department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law,” according to the excerpts.

The Supreme Court in June struck down part of a 1996 federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Edith Windsor, a lesbian widow, sued after the government forced her to pay additional estate taxes because it did not recognize her marriage.

Since then, President Barack Obama’s administration has aggressively implemented the ruling in contexts such as immigration and federal employee benefits.

Holder will also make same-sex married couples equally eligible for death benefits paid to the surviving spouses of law enforcement officers who have died on duty and for benefits from the September 11 victims’ compensation fund, according to the speech excepts. The Justice Department runs both programs.

Comparing the gay-rights movement to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when Robert Kennedy served four years as attorney general, Holder said it was important for his department to act. “As attorney general, I will not let this department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history,” he said, according to the excerpts.

Only 17 U.S. states have legalized gay marriage. In states where same-sex marriage is not legal, spousal privilege for same-sex couples is not guaranteed. In politically conservative Kentucky, for example, a state judge in September denied a woman’s request for spousal privilege to shield her from testifying against her partner in a capital murder case.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NBA

Deron Williams leads Nets over Raptors in Game…

The Nets traveled to a raucous Air Canada Centre but came out with an important Game 1 victory over the Raptors.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

Parenting

How to parent without gender stereotypes in a…

Christia Spears Brown, Phd. author of "Parenting beyond Pink & Blue" gives advice on raising kids free of gender stereotypes.

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.