The Obama administration will confer federal marital benefits on more than 1,000 same-sex couples married in Utah before such unions were put on hold this week by the Supreme Court.
“For the 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 said in a video posted on the Justice Department’s website.
Holder’s action applies to same-sex couples who were married during a 2 1/2-week period between a federal judge’s decision overturning a state ban on those unions and a Jan. 6 order from the Supreme Court that put the decision on hold.
Paul Mero, president of the Salt Lake City-based Sutherland Institute, a policy group opposed to same-sex marriage, said Holder “continues to politicize an issue that should be settled according to the rule of law in the courts.”
“He’s just created more uncertainty” for the couples, he said.
Missy Larson, a spokeswoman for the Utah attorney general’s office, said Holder’s decision wouldn’t affect the state’s decision not to recognize the marriages or confer benefits on such couples. “The validity of the marriages will be determined at the end of the court process,” she said.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denied benefits to legally married same-sex couples. Since then, the Justice Department has been scouring laws and regulations to update benefits for same-sex couples married in states that permit such unions.
The Justice Department action comes two days after Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said the state wouldn’t grant further benefits to the same-sex couples who married before the Supreme Court order.
“It is clear the state is bound by law to limit any benefits attaching after” Reyes said.
Gay rights groups hailed Holder’s action.
“Asking our families to live in legal limbo, asking our children to live without a legal relationship to both their parents while the litigation plays out is both unnecessary and cruel,” said Brandie Balken, Executive Director of the group Equality Utah, in an e-mail.
“These 1,360 Utah couples are married, plain and simple, and they should be afforded every right and responsibility of marriage,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. Griffin had urged Holder yesterday to recognize the marriages.
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