PHOENIX -- For the first time, the Justice Department is instructing all of its employees across the country to give same-sex marriages equal protection under the law in every program it administers.
In a new policy memo, the department spelled out the rights of same-sex couples. And the policies apply even in states where those marriages are not legal, like Arizona.
Shawn Aiken is a trial lawyer representing four Arizona couples who are challenging the state's definition that a marriage is between one man and one woman. On Monday's Good Morning Arizona, he talked about what the memo means for Arizona.
"This does not change Arizona state law," says Aiken. "This changes the operation of divisions, let's call it, managed by the Department of Justice here in Arizona. So the Federal Bureau of Prisons, for example, is now going to allow spousal visits in Arizona, even though Arizona law wouldn't term the visitor a spouse."
Aiken says to keep an eye out of the lawsuit filed by his clients in January. "That's the only vehicle for change of state law," he says. "And that's going to require a change by a federal judge."
However, Aiken does call this a change in policy. "It follows on the heels of a Supreme Court case last June," he says. "It just squares up with that law."