With Memo, Married Same-Sex Couples In Florida Get Federal Protections

Feb 11, 2014

Local LGBT advocates are calling a new federal policy position on the rights of same-sex couples "historic."

On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder directed U.S. Department of Justice employees to give married same-sex couples full and equal recognition under federal law.

It’s a far-reaching directive allowing couples to do everything from file jointly for bankruptcy, have visitation privileges in hospitals and prisons, and more. This directive applies to federal proceedings even in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Holder delivers remarks at the Department's 2013 Pride Month Observance event, where he welcomed guest speakers U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Melissa Etheridge.
Credit Amy Mathers / U.S. Department of Justice

Holder compared his directive to the civil rights struggle of the 1960's, calling the LGBT push for equality the civil rights movement of our day.

The new policy follows similar moves by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service following last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision to invalidate a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which had defined the institution of marriage for federal purposes as limited to heterosexual couples.

Cindy Watson, executive director of the Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network (JASMYN), and attorney and activist Jimmy Midyette spoke with Melissa Ross about the implications of the new policy.

"This is really historic," Midyette said. "For a same-sex married couple in Florida, they will now have access to some of the same privileges that (opposite-sex) married couples have enjoyed."

Along with visitation rights and bankruptcy protections, Midyette said same-sex spouses will now also have spousal privilege in court proceedings.

"I know many Jacksonville couples who have been together for a very long time, same-sex couples," said Watson. "Many of them have been getting married in the last few months in other states, or have contemplated marriage for a long time, and now feel like their marriage really means something and comes with a lot of the federal benefits."

"People are making those choices to get married now because they know that there will be a lot of these kinds of benefits," she said.

Midyette said that since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on DOMA last year the federal government has moved quickly to pass on federal legal protections to same-sex couples.

You can follow Melissa Ross @MelissainJax and Patrick Donges @patrickhdonges.