NEW YORK, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice said it will extend equal protection to couples in same-sex marriages in all programs it administers.
On Monday, all Justice Department employees across the country, including states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, will receive a memo detailing protections legally married same-sex couples will be guaranteed by the department, the Washington Post reported.
Such protections include the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate their spouses, prison visitation, and compensation for surviving spouses of public safety officers.
"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," Attorney General Eric H. Holder said Saturday at the Human Rights Campaign's Greater New York Gala in New York, where he announced the new policy.
"This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better," 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."
The National Organization for Marriage, a group against same-sex marriage, released a statement Saturday that said: "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 American public needs to realize how egregious and how dangerous these usurpations are and how far-reaching the implications can be. The changes being proposed here... serve as a potent reminder of why it is simply a lie to say that redefining marriage doesn't affect everyone in society."