Holder: Utah gay marriages are legal despite state's position

Jan. 10, 2014 at 1:43 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Friday said the United States recognizes same-sex marriages performed in Utah even though the state no longer does.

About 1,300 same-sex marriages were performed in Utah from Dec. 20, when U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled Utah's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of his ruling on Monday.

In a video posted on the Justice Department's website Friday, Holder said the federal government would grant federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples who obtained marriage licenses in Utah.

"Recently, an administrative step by the [U.S. Supreme] 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," Holder said.

"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."

Same-sex marriage was halted in Utah after the stay. The office of Gov. Gary Herbert Wednesday said the state would not recognize the legality of gay marriages already performed in the state pending a ruling on its appeal.

An amendment to Utah's state constitution limits marriage to one man and one woman.

"It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages," Herbert's chief of staff wrote in a memo to state officials.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages legal under state law, opening a variety of benefits for legally married couples including the right to jointly file federal income taxes, exemption from estate taxes and survivor eligibility for some Social Security, life insurance and family immigration visa benefits.

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