On Friday, the Obama administration announced in a video posted on the Justice Department’s website that the US government would recognize the 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in Utah, despite the state government’s refusal to do so.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the federal government will grant federal marriage benefits for those couples who obtained marriage licenses after Federal District Court judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage last month.
“I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Mr. Holder said in the video. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.”
Shelby had ruled on December 20 that Utah’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman violated the federal Constitution, following the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA last year.
Utah’s state government asked a higher-court to block the order while it appealed the ruling. A federal appeals court refused to do so. Then, on Monday, the Supreme Court issued a stay, halting further marriages from occurring.
On Wednesday, Governor Gary Herbert said that the state would not recognize same-sex marriages already licensesd while the case worked its way through the appeals process.
“The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts,” Derek Miller, the chief of staff to Herbert, wrote in a memo to state officials. “It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages.”
However, Holder invoked the federal court’s ruling on DOMA and said the Justice Department was “working tirelessly to implement it in both letter and spirit.”
“In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled—regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages,” Holder said. “And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”