Opponents of legalized gay marriage are pushing back against the Obama administration’s move to extend additional federal benefits to same-sex couples, calling the move a “dangerous” usurpation of states’ rights.
Attorney Gen. Eric Holder revealed Saturday that the Justice Department would issue a policy memo this week granting gay couples the ability to file jointly for bankruptcy and guaranteeing that married same–sex partners would not be forced to testify against each other in trial.
The announcement roiled groups who have fought government recognition of same-sex unions.
"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 National Organization for Marriage's (NOM) Brian Brown said in a written response to the impending action.
The policy shift is the latest in a series of executive actions taken by the administration, as President Obama looks to tackle a broad array of items on his second-term agenda without help from the divided Congress.
Under new guidelines to be issued Monday, same-sex couples will have the right to file for domestic support obligations, including alimony, and are eligible for Justice Department programs that provide compensation to surviving spouses of public safety officers.
The new policy will give federal inmates in same-sex marriages the same benefits as married straight couples, including exchanging correspondence, visitation rights and the potential for “compassionate release” or a sentence reduction because of the incapacitation of a spouse.
Inmates in same-sex marriages could also receive escorts to a spouse’s funeral and be furloughed in the event of a crisis involving their spouse.
The action follows last year’s Supreme Court ruling that the ban on federal benefits for same-sex couples was unconstitutional. In handing down the decision, the justices acknowledged that it likely would result in hundreds of changes to government regulations.
The Obama administration heralded the ruling, and has taken steps to ensure that all same-sex couples are treated like married couples when it comes to certain federal benefits, such as filing taxes.
The policy memo is meant to build on those actions.
“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,” Holder said during remarks to a gala thrown Human Rights Campaign in New York.
But NOM’s Brown said the measures trample on states’ rights to make their own decisions on how to define 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,” Brown said. “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."