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Obama Administration To Recognize Utah Same-Sex Couples’ Marriages

“[F]or 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 says.

WASHINGTON — The federal government will recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who married in Utah in recent weeks, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Approximately 1,360 same-sex couples married between Dec. 20, 2013 — when U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby found the state’s ban on same-sex couples’ marriages to be unconstitutional — and this Monday, when the Supreme Court put new marriages of same-sex couples on hold pending the state’s appeal of Shelby’s ruling.

In a video released by the Justice Department on Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced, “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.”

Specifically, he noted, “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.”

The move comes two days after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced that recognition of those couples marriages is “on hold” in Utah while the appeal of the case is ongoing.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, however, clarified on Thursday that same-sex couples who married during the window in which such marriages were allowed in Utah could still receive marriage certificates from county clerks. Although he did not comment on federal recognition, he specifically mentioned that one purpose for allowing the administrative processing of the marriage certificates was so that such couples could have their marriages recognized by other states.

In the video, Holder says:

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.

Update - 12:55 p.m., ET: Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, who on Thursday urged Holder to recognize the same-sex couples’ marriages, said in a statement, “Attorney General Eric Holder has once again shown the kind of leadership that earns you a spot in the history books. This is only the beginning of this fight, and this work continues until marriage equality returns to Utah for good, and full equality reaches every American in all 50 states.”

Update at 3:30 p.m: Utah Governor’s response:

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