While the nation is still far from legalization of same sex marriage in all 50 states, the U.S. Justice Department has taken steps toward achieving equality for all couples.
For the first time, the Justice Department has instructed all of its employees to give lawful same-sex marriages equal protection under the law in every program it administers. This includes equal protection in courthouse proceedings, prison visits and compensation of surviving spouses of public safety officers.
Likewise, same-sex couples who split up will be responsible for domestic support obligations, which includes debts such as alimony.
Attorney General Holder has played a significant role in pushing forward with marriage equality. This past January, Holder declared more than 1,300 same-sex marriages that took place in Utah throughout December and January legal under federal law despite the state's lack of recognition.
Holder announced the new policy at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala on Feb. 8.
‘‘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,’’ he said in his speech.
Same-sex marriages and gender equality are still very controversial issues for many, and Holder’s speech was criticized by the conservative National Organization for Marriage.
"This is just the latest in a series of moves by the Obama administration, and in particular the Department of Justice, to undermine the authority and sovereignty of the states to make their own determinations regulating the institution of marriage," said Brian Brown, the group's president.
While the implementation of this policy will not resolve all the problems that same-sex marriages face, it may be a step forward. The fight to gain marriage equality is a social movement like many others in the American history and, like any other movement, likely requires a combination of time and action.