U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the federal government would recognize same-sex marriages performed while gay marriage was legal in Utah.
Saying that the recent stay granted by the U.S. Supreme Court had cast doubt on the marriages, Holder said all the federal benefits of marriage would apply for Utah same-sex couples.
“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.
The announcement applies to couples who were legally married in the wake of U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s decision that struck down a Utah law banning gay marriage. That decision is currently on hold after the Supreme Court’s stay order. The federal decision comes just four days after the state of Utah announced that it would not be recognizing the marriages.
In a written response, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s office said that Holder’s decision wasn’t unexpected, and that “adherence to the rule of law, both federal and state as those laws govern respectively, is an unbending principle of this administration.”
Various federal benefits are granted to married couples — such as joint tax filing, an exemption from estate taxes and visa application in cases where one partner is not a U.S. citizen, among other things.
The decision by the state not to recognize same-sex marriages has implications for state tax-filings, and benefits conferred by legal status such as adoption. Currently, the state prohibits joint adoption by unmarried couples.
An appeal to the ruling that made same-sex legal in Utah likely won’t be heard in an appellate court until March. In the meantime, Holder said his office would work to continue to extend benefits to married couples.
“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," Holder said.