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U.S. will recognize Utah same-sex marriages (UPDATED)

UPDATED 12:30 p.m.  The Attorney General’s statement can be read here.


The Obama administration will recognize as legal, for purposes of federal rights and benefits, the hundreds of same-sex marriages that were performed under a federal judge’s ruling that the state’s ban was unconstitutional, according to an announcement at midday Friday.

Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., in a public statement quoted by various news organizations, declared: “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.”

Holder’s announcement was a further indication that access to federal benefits keyed to marriage is having a strong impact on the power of states to continue to forbid gay and lesbian marriages.  That trend began with the Supreme Court’s decision last Term (United States v. Windsor) striking down a part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and has been accelerating in recent months as judges have interpreted that ruling more broadly to benefit same-sex couples.

The government’s position on Utah marriages runs directly contrary to the official position of the state’s governor and attorney general, both of whom have told state agencies not to resolve the status of the already-performed same-sex marriages while the court case over Utah’s ban continues.  In the meantime, those marriages will not be recognized by state agencies, the officials have said.

On December 20, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby of Salt Lake City ruled that the Supreme Court’s decision on the DOMA law meant that states could not discriminate against same-sex couples who wish to marry.   Between that date and January 6, when the Supreme Court put the Shelby ruling on hold while the state pursues an appeal on it, some 1,360 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples across the state.

It is unknown how many of those couples then actually got married, but it is widely assumed that they number in the hundreds.   Holder’s announcement thus affects every one of those marriages, at least so far as federal benefits — such as tax and Social Security and death benefits — are concerned.  For example, couples who were married before 2013 ended presumably will be able to file joint federal tax returns as married couples.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, U.S. will recognize Utah same-sex marriages (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (Jan. 10, 2014, 12:17 PM),