US Justice Department memorandum gives same-sex couples more legal rights in the federal systemFargo, ND (WDAY TV) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a memorandum to the Justice Department, eliminating distinctions between straight and same-sex couples in the federal system.
By: Drew Trafton, WDAY
Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a memorandum to the Justice Department, eliminating distinctions between straight and same-sex couples in the federal system.
Those changes would also affect 34 U.S. states where same-sex unions are not recognized. One of those states is North Dakota.
These rights include federal benefit programs, joint bankruptcy filings, permission to not testify in court against your partner and prison visitation privileges.
Public opinion on same-sex rights remains a contentious issue in North Dakota. It does not take long to find differing opinions on the streets of downtown Fargo.
"There should be some limits, like, promiscuity for example."
"They should have the same rights as any other married couple. It doesn't matter what state they live in."
Even with the new federal benefits, the state you live in will still matter. For instance, in North Dakota, it remains legal to fire or evict someone based on sexual orientation.
Tom Fiebiger - Fargo Attorney: "I mean, this is the world we live in."
Tom Fiebiger, a local attorney and former state senator, has sponsored legislation and testified for a bill that would extend protection to people regardless of sexual orientation under the North Dakota Human Rights Act. It's a bill that's failed to pass twice.
Tom Fiebiger: "This is the civil rights issue of our time."
But Fiebiger believes today's news puts momentum behind a change.
Tom Fiebiger: "The train's left the station, it's just a matter of when North Dakota's going to come along."
He foresees battles emerging in court cases where state and federal rights will be blurred.
Tom Fiebiger: "It's becoming messy. You know, and life's messy. I think you're going to find that pretty soon you won't be able to separate them out quite as easily, and something has got to give.”
This Justice Department memorandum follows a similar decision from the Treasury Department this past summer, allowing legally married same-sex couples to file joint tax returns.