Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that the Justice Department would recognize 1,300 gay marriages in the state of Utah for federal purposes, even though the state was refusing to do so.
Holder said the federal government would grant federal marriage benefits to those same-sex couples who got married after a U.S. district court judge last month struck down Utah's ban on gay marriage.
“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,” Holder said in the video released on the Justice Department's website. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.”
The Obama administration's decision to wade into the highly charged debate over gay marriage in one of the most socially conservative states is the latest development in the ongoing legal battle playing out in Utah.
The legal dispute over Utah's marriage laws intensified on Dec. 20 when Federal District Court Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Utah's constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman violated the federal Constitution.
The state government asked a higher court to block the order to allow for an appeal to play out, but a federal appeals court declined to act. On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a stay, preventing further same-sex marriages from taking place while the litigation continues. In that interim period though, a number of same-sex couples were able to marry.
Holder said the legal limbo was unfair for those newly married gay couples in the state. Referring to the June Supreme Court decision that struck down a ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages, he 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,” he said. “And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”