US grants more legal rights to gay couples

The US is to make changes to the justice system to give greater legal recognition to same-sex marriages.

In a speech at a gay rights event in New York, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department had a role in “confronting discrimination”.

In a speech on Saturday at a Human Rights Campaign dinner, Mr Holder said he would issue a memorandum on Monday “that will for the first time in history formally instruct all Justice Department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition to the greatest extent possible under the law”.

Benefits will include couples being exempt from having to testify against each other in court, and having equal rights to visits in federal prisons.

The instructions would apply “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”, he said.

Same-sex marriages are currently legal in 17 US states and in Washington DC.

Other states grant some marital benefits to gay couples, while others have banned gay marriage outright.

However, the new ruling will apply to federal matters in all states, whether or not they recognise gay unions, as long as the couple married legally in a state which does.

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