It may be long overdue, but this week proved yet again what has been apparent for a great deal of time now: Change is on the horizon for same-sex couples. A landmark decision came on Saturday Feb. 8 as United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced his plans to recognize same-sex marriages at the federal level, even in states where same-sex marriages are illegal. Doing so would afford same-sex couples liberties such as the right to jointly declare bankruptcy and the right to visit a spouse in prison. These freedoms undoubtedly represent our country’s continued shift toward a more honorable and just nation – a shift in the right direction.
Within the past year, seven states have legalized gay marriage, the number of openly gay federal judges and ambassadors has more than doubled and we have seen a great number of public figures come out of the closet. There is truly no denying the tremendous steps forward the U.S. has taken in recent months. So why, you ask, is this simple decision so important?
In extending the rights of same-sex marriages, Holder sends a message to gay couples that, in the eyes of the federal government, there exists no difference between same-sex relationships and those of heterosexual couples.
As mentioned, by recognizing same-sex marriages at the federal level, a same-sex couple can file for joint bankruptcy. Previously, the U.S. government could successfully challenge a federal joint bankruptcy claim filed by a same-sex couple in states where same-sex marriage is not legal. Now, federal bankruptcy claims can be filed by married same-sex couples anywhere in the U.S. without the concern of it being challenged.
Further, married same-sex couples can now decline to give incriminating testimony against one another in civil and criminal court. Also, the new protections grant same-sex couples visitation rights while one is in prison. Being forced to testify against one’s spouse or being disallowed from visiting one’s spouse in prison must surely serve as a slap in the face to anyone who is told that they have full equality in our current society.
This, in essence, is what makes Holder’s decision such an important one to anyone in favor of liberty and justice for all. It reaffirms the idea that there are still improvements to be made – that the fight doesn’t simply end with the legalization of same-sex marriage. In Holder, a person in a position of power and importance, advocating for the LGBTQ-plus community, he sends the message that the higher-ups in Washington, D.C. can actually care and understand that there is still plenty of work to be done.
Holder’s choice to act may have been an important one, but it by no means should be cause for us to throw our hands up and call it a day. There are still American citizens – not only of different sexual orientations but also races and ethnicities – who are constantly subjected to unfair treatment for unfair reasons. But, for today at least, there is progress.u