The federal government will recognize the marriages of an estimated 1,300 same-sex couples in Utah as lawful, the Obama administration said Friday, even though the state government is declining to do so while it appeals a court ruling that struck down its gay marriage ban.
“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,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video released by the Justice Department.
The move will allow the estimated 1,300 same-sex couples who were married after a federal judge ruled Utah’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional, but before the Supreme Court halted same-sex marriages while the state appeals, to access federal benefits available to all married couples. Those include the ability to file joint tax returns. In its action Friday, the administration lifted some of the legal limbo facing couples who wed before the Supreme Court’s stay.
“These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds,” Holder said. “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.”
A federal judge in Utah ruled on Dec. 20 that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the constitution. Hundreds of marriage licenses were issued in the days after the judge’s decision. On Monday, the Supreme Court issued an order staying the ruling while a federal appeals court considers the state’s appeal.