Attorney General Eric Holder is moving same-sex couples one step closer towards marriage equality.
In the best of all possible worlds, we would wake up one morning and two men or two women or a man and a woman could get married and it would not involve lawsuits, protesters, press conferences, congressional hearings, or going to bed wondering if your marriage would be invalidated the next morning.
It’s not the best of all possible worlds. Yet.
But we’re getting closer.
On February 9th, 2013, NPR’s The Two-Way published this announcement:
Attorney General Eric Holder “directed Justice Department employees to give same-sex married couples ‘full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent under the law,’ a move with far-ranging consequences for how such couples are treated in federal courtrooms and proceedings.”
In practical terms, this goes far beyond the benefits bestowed when the US Supreme Court struck down potions of DOMA, allowing many federal benefits to same-sex married couples. That gave couples tax and inheritance benefits, veteran’s spousal benefits, and almost every other benefit afforded to hetero married couples. But this announcement brings the couples parity in federal courts, affecting everything from bankruptcy filings to access to Public Safety Officer’s Benefits to spousal testimony rules to prison (yes, federal prison) visitation.
Why does this matter?
Same-sex marriage laws are still a patchwork across the country. 17 states (as of 2/2014) allow gay marriage or are in active litigation on the issue. In Utah, the legality of marriages performed while they were legal is in limbo. Oregon recognizes marriages performed elsewhere but does not allow them to be performed in Oregon.
This policy, while not overturning decisions by individual states, gives married couples some protections if they move, divorce, experience the illness or death of a spouse, or are faced with innumerable legal issues that are, unfortunately, part of life.
There are still plenty of people who protest that gays are asking for special rights, or that traditional marriage will be harmed by same-sex marriages, or that these marriages will bring an end to families and communities as we know them.
This announcement is one of the boldest statements yet against these voices. Same-sex married couples are not being given anything that married opposite-sex couples do not already have. They are being made equal.
That’s what this fight is about.
The right for two people to marry, and not wonder if they will turn on the news the next day and find out that someone has decided that their vows – and their piece of paper – don’t count.
—Photo Fibonacci Blue/Flickr