Washington, D.C. -
Attorney General Eric Holder on Saturday announced that the Justice Department will treat the marriages of gay and lesbian couples equal those of their straight counterparts.
"On Monday, I will issue a new policy memorandum that will – for the first time in history – formally instruct all Justice Department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extend possible under the law," Holder told a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) audience in New York.
"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," he added.
As a result of the policy change, gay spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other, qualify to file for joint bankruptcy and will receive equal privileges in federal prisons.
Holder said the changes will "give real meaning to the Windsor decision," a reference to June's Supreme Court ruling which struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of gay couples.
Chad Griffin, president of HRC, the nation's largest LGBT rights advocate, applauded the announcement.
"This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better," Griffin said in a statement. "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. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all. Attorney General Holder continues to show incredible leadership, and this latest action cements his place in history alongside Robert F. Kennedy, another Attorney General who crusaded for civil rights."