Extending a landmark Supreme Court case on gay marriage rights to the criminal courtroom, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday, the 8th, that same-sex spouses may not be required to testify against each other. These spouses should also be eligible to file joint bankruptcy and should be eligible for any benefits opposite-sex partners enjoy, including those appropriate for federal prison inmates.
Comparing the struggle for same-sex marriage rights to those of civil rights in the 1960s, Holder noted that the Justice Department’s role must be “as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy’s time,” in pursuing justice for all citizens.
Currently, same-sex couples are allowed to file joint federal tax returns even if they reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. They also enjoy military benefits as well as federal employee benefits.
The right of a spouse to decline to give incriminating testimony against his or her partner has long been recognized by courts in both England and the United States and has become a cornerstone of criminal law. While spouse privilege is often misunderstood, and there are challenges prosecutors can bring to the spouse’s right to avoid incriminating a partner, Holder’s message is clear: prosecutors will not be able to challenge spousal privilege on the basis that same-sex marriage is not recognized in the state.
Furthermore, if a federal prisoner is married to a person of the same sex, he or she will be entitled to visitation by a spouse, furloughs for family crises, escorted trips for the funeral of a spouse, correspondence with the spouse and reduction in sentence for compassionate release in the case of a spouse being incapacitated.
This ruling marks the first time that same-sex couples have come close to enjoying the full rights and protections under the law that are afforded to heterosexual couples. While many same-sex couples and their supporters were excited by the announcement, it remains to be seen how the states and the federal court system will handle various legal challenges that may arise.
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