U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that any same-sex marriages performed in Utah before the Supreme Court put a hold on the practice will be recognized, and couples will be eligible for federal benefits.
“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,” Mr. Holder said in a video statement released by the Justice Department. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had said his state would not recognize the roughly 1,000 marriages performed between a Dec. 20 court ruling striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban and a Supreme Court decision on Monday that put the marriages on hold while the state appeals the case.
However, Mr. Holder’s statement seemed to contradict that, stating that at the federal level at least, all marriages performed in the roughly two-week period would be recognized as legal.
Utah voters had approved a gay-marriage ban in 2004, before a U.S. District Judge struck down the law in December. The nation’s largest gay-rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, asked the federal government to intervene on Thursday, just a day before Mr. Holder’s announcement.
“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,” said Wilson Cruz, a spokesman for GLAAD, an LGBT rights group. “While Utah has put families through so much uncertainty, the White House has demonstrated true leadership and support for loving couples and families.”
Mr. Holder’s comments also drew criticism.
“It is outrageous that the Justice Department would move so brazenly and publicly to undermine Utah’s standing constitutional provision regulating marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. “It is the right of states to determine marriage, and the voters and legislature of Utah have done just that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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