Ashlee Meyer (L) and partner KY Choi (R) sign their marriage license as they prepare to get married, June 29, 2013 at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif.
Stephen Lam/Reuters

DOJ extending new benefits to same-sex couples

Updated

By striking down the Defense of Marriage Act last summer, the Supreme Court granted basic federal benefits to same-sex couples in states that allow gay marriage. It also freed the Obama administration to broaden those benefits through executive action. The administration will seize that opportunity on Monday, with a series of new federal protections for same-sex couples.

In remarks prepared for a Saturday night speech to the Human Rights Campaign in New York City, Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a series of new rules intended to give same-sex marriages what he calls “full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.” NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams obtained the remarks ahead of Holder’s speech.

The new benefits cover groups as varied as criminal defendants and public safety officers, and they will apply to all legally married gay couples—even if they live in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage. 

Under the Justice Department’s new directive, government lawyers will presume that same-sex spouses have the same rights as opposite-sex couples in federal criminal trials. Those include the right not to testify against a spouse.  

The directive will also extend federal death benefits and educational payments to same-sex spouses of public safety officers who are killed or injured in the line of duty. 

Federal prison inmates will qualify for compassionate release or reduced sentences if they need to care for incapacitates same-sex spouses. And inmates’ spouses will enjoy the same visitation rights regardless of their sex.

The Justice Department will take the position that same-sex couples should be treated equally in federal bankruptcy proceedings.

Just last month, the DOJ announced it would recognize same-sex marriages in Utah, where litigation over the state’s gay marriage ban is ongoing.

NBC News’ Pete Williams contributed reporting.

Melissa Harris-Perry, 2/9/14, 12:08 PM ET

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DOJ extending new benefits to same-sex couples

Updated