The Senate's No. 2 Democrat on Sunday welcomed Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s move to extend the application of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage to the Justice Department, while a key Republican said the move could create more strife between the federal government and the states.
Mr. Holder announced over the weekend that same-sex spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other, should be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly and are entitled to the same rights and privileges, as federal prison inmates, in opposite-sex marriages.
"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," Mr. Holder said at a Human Rights Campaign event in New York.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, called the move "logical," "consistent, and "compassionate."
"There are those who do not recognize this politically, who oppose it politically, but if you really accept the premise that there should be marriage equality at the federal level when it comes to recognizing the right to benefits, for example, the attorney general is saying we're going to apply the same rules as we do for other married couples for same-sex couples when it comes to our courts," Mr. Durbin said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
The Justice Department runs a number of benefits programs, and Mr. Holder says same-sex couples will qualify for them. 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.
"This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better," said HRC President Chad Griffin. "While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, said on CBS on Sunday that the move would not be an issue for a state like hers, which already recognizes same-sex marriage.
"But it appears to be another example of the Obama administration imposing its will on the states," she said. "It could be an issue for other states that are having this debate or have made different policy decisions."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the move "is yet another illustration of the lawlessness of this administration," saying the high court's ruling should leave matters on gay marriage up to individual states.
On Monday, the Justice Department will issue a policy memo to its employees instructing them to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.
Mr. Holder's address is the latest application of a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The decision applies to legally married same-sex couples seeking federal benefits.
After the Supreme Court decision last June, the Treasury Department and the IRS said that all legally married gay couples may file joint federal tax returns, even if they reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages. The Defense Department said it would grant military spousal benefits to same-sex couples. The Health and Human Services Department said the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer a bar to states recognizing same-sex marriages under state Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management said it is now able to extend benefits to legally married same-sex spouses of federal employees and annuitants.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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