Same-Sex Married Couples to Receive Equal Protection

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday that same-sex spouses cannot be compelled to testify against one another, among other things.

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Attorney General Eric Holder testifies during a hearing on Jan. 29, 2014, in Washington, D.C. 

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In a major policy shift for the federal government, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday that same-sex spouses would receive equal protection under the law. They cannot be compelled to testify against each other, they should be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly and federal prison inmates in same-sex marriages are entitled to the same rights and privileges as federal prison inmates in opposite-sex marriages, the Associated Press reports.

"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 in prepared remarks to the Human Rights Campaign in New York. The advocacy group works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights.

Additionally, fairness will extend to the Justice Department's benefits programs, Holder says. They include the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and benefits to surviving spouses of public safety officers who suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries in the line of duty, the AP notes.

The stakes in the current generation over same-sex marriage rights "could not be higher," Holder said, comparing them to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. The move comes on the heels of last year’s Supreme Court decision that declared it unconstitutional to refuse federal benefits to married same-sex couples.

Read more at the Associated Press.