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Guest Post: New Federal Benefits For Same Sex Married Couples

Boyce HinmanUS Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the US government will now recognize same sex marriages as equal to heterosexual marriages in all federal matters. That means they will be treated just the same in bankruptcy court proceedings, visitation privileges for inmates of federal prisons and in federal survivor benefits.

Note: I am not an attorney or a qualified tax expert. No action should be taken based solely on the content of these memos. However I hope the memos will help you ask the right questions of people who are qualified in these issues.

Same sex married couples will now be able to jointly file for bankruptcy. This ensures alimony and domestic support debts aren't discharged in bankruptcy cases. And, if they do file for bankruptcy and were married in a state which allows same sex marriage, such as California, their bankruptcy will be valid all across the nation, even in states that do not recognize same sex marriage.

Also, from now on, people in same sex marriages will have to right to refuse to testify against their spouses in civil and criminal cases heard in federal court, even when the court proceedings occur in states that do not recognize same sex marriage. And the same sex spouses of all law enforcement officers and firefighters will be entitled to benefits in the event of death or severe injury in the line of duty.

Federal prison inmates, who are married to people of the same sex, will have the same rights as inmates who are in heterosexual marriages. For example, their spouses will be allowed to visit them in prison, federal prisoners will be allowed to take escorted trips to attend the funerals of their spouses or to deal with crises being faced by their spouses, to engage in correspondence with their spouses, and to obtain compassionate release, or reduction of their sentence, to care for a disabled spouse who is not in prison.

The Attorney General’s order also covers some lesser known programs such as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Program . During the cold war era with the Soviet Union, the United the United States carried out numerous atomic bomb tests. In order to do these tests people mined uranium and others processed that uranium to prepare it for use in that program. Some of them got sick and died from exposure to the uranium.

Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to provide monetary compensation to those who got sick from the radiation. The act also provides compensation to the spouses of people who died from that radiation. Now those spousal benefits will be available to the same sex spouses of those who died.

Attorney General Holder also stated that same sex spouses would be eligible for spousal compensation from the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

It is important to note that the US Attorney General has little or no authority over state courts and programs. It is possible, for example, that a state court in Georgia might compel the same sex spouse of a defendant to testify against his or her spouse in state court, even if they married in a state where same sex marriages are recognized.

None-the-less, Attorney General Holder’s announcement is another major step in the march to full and equal rights for LGBT people.

Authored by Boyce Hinman, founder and director of the California Communities United Institute, and member of Marriage Equality USA. Hinman has been writing and posting a series, "Monday Morning Marriage Memo," as part of his  Anatomy for Justice blog. This article was first published there, and is republished here with the author’s permission. Hinman resides in and serves California, therefore the posts sometimes have a California slant. NOTE: Marriage Equality USA is not a legal firm or a tax/accounting firm. No action should be taken based solely on the content of our news blog or website. 

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