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Justice Dept. Extending New Same-Sex Marriage Benefits YORK) -- The United States Justice Department says it will offer equal protection to same-sex married couples as it does heterosexual couples, even if the marriages aren't recognized in the state where the couple lives.

The announcement was made Saturday by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Human Rights Campaign's Gala in New York.

Holder said, "On Monday, the Justice Department will issue a new policy memorandum that will – for the first time in history – formally instruct all Department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law."

Through this policy, equal legal rights will be applied to same-sex spouses involved in civil and criminal cases, and equal eligibility requirements will be applied to same-sex spouses in bankruptcy cases. Federal inmates in same-sex marriages will also be entitled to equal rights as inmates in heterosexual marriages.

Holder added, "Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation's struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher... And so the Justice Department's role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy's time. As Attorney General, I will not let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history."

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement, "While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all."

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