DOJ Reports Work Yet to Do for Marriage Equality
WASHINGTON (CN) - After documenting the strides that the federal government has made in ensuring marriage equality, the Justice Department noted in a report Friday that some agencies still await congressional action to extend benefits.
The announcement comes in the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of the June 26, 2013, decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Attorney General Eric Holder noted Friday that the ink was still fresh on U.S. v. Windsor when the Justice Department followed the direction of President Barack Obama to begin "working with federal agencies to make the promise of the Windsor decision a reality - to identify every federal law, rule, policy and practice in which marital status is a relevant consideration, expunge Section 3's discriminatory effect, and ensure that committed and loving married couples throughout the country would receive equal treatment by the federal government regardless of their sexual orientation."
DOMA had prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples as married, "infusing the administration of over 1,000 laws with unconstitutional discrimination," Holder wrote.
Obama's edict prompted Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery and a team of lawyers carried out the president's mission, according to the report. The team "canvassed the government to identify ways in which federal law touches married life," Holder wrote. The DOJ helped various agencies identify legal issues and evaluate whether each department's policy's adhered to the Windsor decision.
Highlights of the Justice Department's work include a green light by the Internal Revenue Service for same-sex couples to file joint tax returns.
The Department of Defense also now permits same-sex couples of service members to get the same benefits as opposite-sex couples, including allowing a spouse of a service member in a same-sex marriage to be buried in a military cemetery.
A reform by immigration officials meanwhile allows citizens to sponsor their same-sex spouses for benefits. Same-sex spouses of federal employees are now eligible for benefits, as well, and the Department of Justice now recognizes the validity of same-sex marriages in the courtrooms.
The U.S. Department of Labor chimed in with its own announcement Friday that it plans to revise the definition of the term "spouse" under the Family Medical Leave Act, allowing couples in a same-sex marriage to take time off to care for an ailing spouse.
There are two agencies, however, that still have work to do, Holder added.
The Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs are required by law to confer certain marriage-related benefits based on the law of the state in which a married couple lives.
Holder said this requirement prevents the extension of benefits to same-sex married couples living in states that don't recognize such marriages.
"We will work closely with Congress to ensure that veterans and elderly and disabled Americans can obtain for themselves or their spouses the essential benefits they have earned no matter where they live," Holder wrote.
"The implementation of the Windsor decision across the entire federal government is an accomplishment that reflects countless hours of hard work, cooperation, and coordination across agencies," Holder added. "As additional issues arise, we will continue to work together to uphold this administration's fundamental commitment to equal treatment for all Americans, and to extend this fundamental equality to all Americans."
Same-sex marriages are legally recognized in 19 states and the District of Columbia.