WASHINGTON, D.C., January 10, 2014 ( – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the federal government will recognize same-sex “marriages” contracted during the brief period between December and January when such unions took place legally in Utah, before the U.S. Supreme Court put a halt to them.

The announcement comes two days after Utah state officials announced that they would not recognize the “marriages” while the state’s challenge to a District Court ruling that struck down Utah’s voter-approved traditional marriage amendment makes its way through the courts.

In a statement, Holder said his decision to grant “married” Utah same-sex couples federal marriage benefits was based upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last summer that struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).


“This ruling marked a historic step toward equality for all American families,” Holder said. “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.”

“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,” he said. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.” 

Same-sex “marriages” in Utah commenced immediately after U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, an Obama appointee, struck down the Utah marriage protection amendment on December 20. While state officials petitioned Shelby and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to put a stay on Shelby’s decision until their appeal was heard, they were rebuffed. 

Eventually, on January 6, the Supreme Court stepped in, and in a unanimous decision put a halt to any further same-sex ceremonies. However, the delay meant that the around 1000 homosexual couples that had already obtained marriage licenses were thrust them into legal limbo. 

In a statement two days later, newly-appointed Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes clarified that given the Supreme Court’s decision, Utah’s voter-approved marriage amendment remains in effect.

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“The State can neither recognize nor confer new marital benefits,” said Reyes. “While the ultimate validity of such marriages is subject to the decision of a higher court, it is clear that the State is bound by law to limit any benefits attaching after the stay.”

Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, called the Obama administration’s decision to recognize the unions despite state law “one of the most significant overreaches of federal authority imaginable.” 

“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 Brown. [W]ith this move, the Department of Justice under this Administration signals that it simply has no regard for the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Brown pointed out that in its decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, the same decision cited by Holder in his determination to recognize the Utah “marriages,” the Supreme Court had said that marriage should remain a state, and not a federal issue. “Attorney General Eric Holder is now doing the very thing that the Supreme Court in Windsor v. United States held the federal government could not do – use a definition of marriage for federal law purposes that did not respect the policy choices made by the individual states,” said Brown.

This is the same states-rights argument made by Governor Gary Herbert and Attorney General Reyes in their appeal to the Supreme Court to halt the “marriages.” However, in a statement today Governor Herbert, who has vowed to fight Judge Shelby’s decision, said that the Department of Justice’s decision to recognize the “marriages” “comes as no surprise and is consistent with previous direction to state agencies.” 

Herbert said that state agencies would “comply with federal law when providing federal services,” but will simultaneously comply with state law, which does not recognize the same-sex unions, in providing state services.

If upheld, Shelby's decision would make Utah the ninth state, out of the 18 states that recognize same-sex “marriage,” where such unions have been legalized by a judicial decision. 

Since Shelby is a federal judge, his decision could also have the effect of overturning the constitutional amendments in 28 other states that forbid same-sex “marriage,” if it is upheld.

Voters in the majority-Mormon state voted to uphold traditional marriage in 2004.


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