[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] will recognize and extend benefits to all same-sex marriages [text, PDF], including those performed in states that do not recognize them, as per a policy memorandum issued by US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] on Monday. The memo, which cites the decision in United States v. Windsor [SCOTUSblog backgrounder; JURIST report] that struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act [text], states that the DOJ will recognize same-sex marriages as equally valid to heterosexual unions for all purposes of federal law. At a Human Rights Campaign gala event, Holder said [JURIST report] the following about the policy change:
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.
Notably, the memo states that the DOJ will not challenge the rights and privileges of lawful same-sex spouses on the grounds of residence in a state that does not recognize their marriage.
Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] has been a highly polarizing issue in the American legal community. Numerous challenges to same-sex marriage bans have arisen, particularly before federal courts in recent months. Four legally married Ohio same-sex couples sued [JURIST report] on Monday in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] to have both parents’ names listed on their children’s birth certificates. In January, the Tulsa County Clerk’s Office appealed a district court ruling [JURIST reports] that struck down Oklahoma’s constitutional same-sex marriage ban [text]. The Obama administration in December 2013 announced that the Social Security Administration [official website] would begin processing payments [JURIST report] to surviving spouses of same-sex marriages. Earlier that month, the US Department of Education [official website] announced that it would recognize all lawful same-sex marriages [JURIST report] for the purposes of applying for and receiving federal student financial aid.