The Impact of Recent Legislation Changes on Same-Sex Couples’ Rights

Another milestone in the fight for marriage equality was achieved on February 10, 2014, when Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memorandum emphasizing that the Department of Justice must recognize same-sex marriages with respect to statutes, regulations, and policy enforcement.

Federal Marital Privilege Extends to Same-Sex Couples

With Attorney General Holder’s memorandum, all federal legal cases will now require that any marriage, heterosexual or homosexual, be recognized in regard to marital privileges and rights.

This means that going forward, same-sex couples can: 

  • File joint bankruptcy;
  • Have prison visitation rights, and
  • Exercise the right to refuse to testify against a spouse. 

These rights and privileges are extended across the entire United States for federal matters, regardless of whether or not the state where the legal issue is being handled recognizes same-sex marriage. For Texas, where same-sex marriage is still illegal, same-sex couples married in a marriage equality state should no longer face discrimination in regard to federal legal matters.

Equal Rights for Marital Privilege and Personal Injury Cases

One of the rights denied to same-sex couples in the past is the right to end-of-life visitation and medical power of attorney. When a spouse is terminally ill or fatally injured, the surviving spouse has the right to be with them during their final days. In the past, same-sex spouses may have been restricted from being with their husband or wife if the state did not recognize same-sex marriage.

Another addition is that for same-sex married couples where one spouse is incarcerated in federal prison, visitation has been an issue. Now, if one spouse is seriously injured in an accident and the other spouse is incarcerated, he or she will be able to request a compassionate release or reduction in sentence to spend time with the injured spouse.

The Department of Justice is On the Side of Marriage Equality

At the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala on February 8, Attorney General Holder stated, “This means that, 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.”

Currently, 17 states and Washington D.C. support marriage equality while 10 states only recognize unions and partnerships. This leaves Texas and 32 other states to reconsider their marriage laws in the coming years as more and more states support same-sex marriage.

While the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Section 3 and increasing opposition to anti-same-sex marriage laws builds, Texas same-sex couples are still at the mercy of state marital laws for state and local legal issues.

For instance, the portion of DOMA that was struck down relates to a surviving same-sex spouse that sought the federal estate tax exemption when accepting her previous partner’s estate as was indicated in the will. Essentially, the surviving spouse was forced to pay taxes that a heterosexual partner would not.

Julie Johnson Law is dedicated to upholding legal rights regarding personal injury and family law rights regarding same-sex marriage. Call 214-290-8001 or visit our website to schedule a FREE consultation regarding your injury or family law case.

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