U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Jan. 10 that the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages from Utah even if the state of Utah will not recognize them.
In late December, a federal court ruling in a lawsuit seeking marriage equality overturned Utah's constititional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. That cleared the way for same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses from county clerks and get married.
Meanwhile, the state of Utah prepared to fight the ruling and sought stays in the federal district, appeals and finally U.S Supreme Courts. The Supreme Court issued a stay, after about 1,000 same-sex couples entered into marriages in the state.
This stay brought to a halt additional same-sex marriages. It also brought an order from Utah's governor that state agencies should not recognize the gay marriages that had already taken place.
On Jan. 10, Holder said that the federal government would recognize those marriages.
In a statement, he said, "Last June, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision — in United States v. Windsor —holding that Americans in same-sex marriages are entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under the law. This ruling marked a historic step toward equality for all American families. And since the day it was handed down, the Department of Justice has been working tirelessly to implement it in both letter and spirit—moving to extend—federal benefits to married same-sex couples as swiftly and smoothly as possible."
He continued, "Recently, an administrative step by the court has cast doubt on same-sex marriages that have been performed in the state of Utah. And the governor has announced that the state will not recognize these marriages pending additional court action."
But, said, Holder, "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. These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds. 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. And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available."
Responding, Chad Griffin at the Human Rights Campaign said, "Holder has once again shown the kind of leadership that earns you a spot in the history books. This is only the beginning of this fight, and this work continues until marriage equality returns to Utah for good, and full equality reaches every American in all 50 states."
At GLAAD, spokesman Wilson Cruz said, "The White House and Attorney General Holder are bringing some stability to the Utah couples and families who have had an emotional and legal roller coaster over the last several weeks. While Utah has put families through so much uncertainty, the White House has demonstrated true leadership and support for loving couples and families."
The appeals court is expected to take up the Utah case on an expedited schedule.
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