U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said despite Utah’s governor denying to recognize some 1,300 legal same-sex marriages in the state during its appeal of a district court’s ruling, the federal government will recognize those 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,” Holder said.
The Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that he was “unable to reach a legal conclusion as to the ultimate validity of marriage between persons of the same sex who completed their marriage ceremony in Utah between Dec. 20, 2013, and Jan. 6, 2014.”
“That question remains unanswered and the answer will depend on the result of the appeal process,” continued Reyes. He said any same-sex couple applying for some state marriage benefit or recognition would be evaluated on a “case-by-case basis” by a “review team” established just for that purpose.
Reyes stated that the U.S. Supreme Court’s grant of a stay against the federal district court decision that struck down Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples “means that Utah’s laws defining marriage…are again in effect….”
The attorney general’s statement acknowledges that 1,300 same-sex couples have married in the two-and-a-half weeks since U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby issued his decision and immediately enjoined the state from enforcing its ban. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted Utah’s stay against Shelby’s order.
Later, Gov. Gary Herbert’s office issued a statement, saying “Based on counsel from the Attorney General’s Office regarding the Supreme Court decision, state recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice. Please understand this position is not intended to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages – that is for the courts to decide.”
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said while Holder’s decision is the right one, the “legal limbo” so many couples face now continues to encourage discrimination.
“By recognizing existing same-sex marriages in Utah, the Administration has reinforced their commitment to the rights guaranteed by the United States v. Windsor decision,” Carey said. “Still the legal limbo imposed by the recent Supreme Court decision to put a hold on same-sex marriages in Utah and the actions of the state government to deprive couples of their rights, remain a roadblock to the equality that same-sex couples deserve. We thank Attorney General Holder for his leadership and we urge the lower courts to extend marriage rights immediately.”
Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
Holder’s statement in full:
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.
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.
In the meantime, 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.
Click here to watch a video of Holder giving his statement on the status of same-sex marriages in Utah.