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Federal privileges to extend to same-sex couples

US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced [text, PDF] on Saturday that the federal government plans to give married same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples when filing for bankruptcy, testifying in court or visiting family members in prison. These benefits would allow same-sex couples to be covered by spousal privilege in criminal investigations, wherein one spouse cannot be forced to testify against the other. Same-sex couples would also receive visitation rights in prison, and could be allowed escorted leave to attend a spouse's funeral. "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," Holder stated in his speech before members of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) [advocacy website].

Additionally, the federal government will recognize same-sex couples for programs such as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund [official websites]. Holder states that this new policy memorandum will be issued on Monday.

The federal government has recently made many changes in recognizing the rights of legal same-sex marriages [JURIST backgrounder], largely in response to the US Supreme Court's ruling in US v. Windsor [SCOTUSblog backgrounder; JURIST report]. While the Windsor decision did not create a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, it does entitle couples in lawfully recognized same-sex marriages to certain federal benefits. The US Department of Education [official website] announced [JURIST report] in December that for the purposes of applying for and receiving federal student financial aid, the federal government will now recognize all legal same-sex marriages. On the same day as this announcement, the US Customs and Border Protection [official website] said [Time report] it will expand the definition of "members of a family residing in a household" to include same-sex couples and other domestic relationships so as to facilitate the declarations process. In September the US Department of Labor [official website] issued guidance explaining [JURIST report] that all legally married same-sex spouses in the US can participate in employee benefit plans overseen by the Employee Benefits Security Administration [official website]. Earlier in September the US Department of Justice [official website] announced [JURIST report] that it will no longer enforce a federal law that denies same-sex spouses veterans benefits. In August the US Treasury Department [official website] announced that it, along with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) [official website], will recognize marriages [JURIST report] of all same-sex couples for federal tax purposes.

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