Equality in Privileges, Protections and Rights

Last June, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, a landmark decision that found unconstitutional a provision of law that treated loving, committed and married same-sex couples as a separate and lesser class of people.

Immediately following the Court’s decision, President Obama directed the Attorney General, Eric Holder, to lead the Administration’s implementation of the Windsor decision to “review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, [was] implemented swiftly and smoothly.” And over the last seven months, the Obama Administration has done just that, extending critically important benefits – from federal tax treatment to military spousal benefits  for legally married same-sex couples, even those living in states that don’t recognize their marriage.

On Saturday, in remarks delivered at the Human Rights Campaign Greater New York Gala, Attorney General Holder described the importance of the Court’s ruling in Windsor:

This marked a critical step forward.  And it constituted a resounding victory for committed and loving couples throughout the country who fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents had been denied the recognition that they deserved; and for millions of family, friends, and supporters who wanted to see their loved ones treated fairly, and who worked tirelessly to make that a reality.

The Attorney General also stressed that we still have work to do, and to that end, announced that today, he is issuing a new policy memorandum that will “formally instruct all Justice Department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

As the Attorney General said:

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.

President Obama said in his Second Inaugural Address, “If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” Today, thanks to the Court’s historic ruling, the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, and a fundamental commitment to equality that exists across the Obama Administration, we are truly moving towards a more perfect union.

Read the Attorney General’s remarks as prepared and learn more about the Justice Department’s new policy guidance.

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

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