The U.S. Department of Justice announced in a video today that it will recognize the legal status of the same-sex couples whose marriages were officiated in Utah. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said. The ruling comes despite the announcement by Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert’s office on Wednesday that the marriages that have already been licensed will not be recognized as lawful while the appeal is in process.
Federal District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled on December 20 that the state’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman was in violation with the federal constitution. As more than 1,300 same-sex couples took advantage of their long-awaited opportunity to tie the knot, Utah government started the appeal process and asked a higher court to put the marriages on hold. A federal appeals court refused to do so in the weeks following the initial ruling, but on January 6 the Supreme Court issued a stay, which officially put same-sex marriages on hold in the state. The couples that already got married remained in a legal limbo, as it wasn’t originally clear whether their unions would be recognized by the law.
State vs. Federal
“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,” Holder said in the DOJ video today. In the light of the federal agency’s announcement, Herbert’s office issued a statement on its site saying that Utah agencies will comply with federal law when providing federal services, and will continue to be directed by state laws when providing state services.