Feds to recognize Utah's gay marriages

Attorney General Eric Holder said on Friday that the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages in Utah even though state officials declared they won’t.

“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 in a video posted on the Justice Department’s website. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.”

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The announcement comes the same week Utah officials said they wouldn’t recognize same-sex marriages that had been performed in the state since December. 

Gov. Gary Herbert’s (R) chief of staff sent a letter to his cabinet on Tuesday directing them to comply legally with a hold the United States Supreme Court issued a day earlier. 

“State recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice. Please understand this position is not intended to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages — that is for the courts to decide,” the letter said.

On Monday, the Supreme Court filed an order that temporarily halted same-sex marriages that had been allowed since a federal judge overturned a ban on them Dec. 20. 

District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. More than 1,300 same-sex couples got married afterward.

The high court intervened this week to give state officials more time to appeal Shelby’s ruling.

Gov. Herbert said any legal changes same-sex couples made since their marriage, such as name changes, will remain the same. The state, however, will not allow any further legal changes pending the appeal.

Despite the Supreme Court’s administrative move, which Holder said “has cast doubt” on these marriages, the federal government will recognize these couples.

Holder said the action is meant to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision last June in the case U.S. v. Windsor. A majority of the justices ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. 

“This ruling marked a historic step toward equality for all American families,” Holder said in the video Friday. “Since the day it was handed down, the Department of Justice has been working tirelessly to implement it in both letter and in spirit.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday "The president welcomes that determination by the AG."

On Friday afternoon, Gov. Herbert responded to the Justice Department's announcement and said while state agencies will comply with federal law in providing federal services to same-sex couples, Utah's agencies will only comply with state laws in providing services made available by the state. 

"The announcement that the Department of Justice will recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah comes as no surprise and is consistent with previous direction to state agencies," the governor said in a statement. " State agencies have always been directed to comply with federal law when providing federal services and will continue to do so.  State agencies are directed and will continue to comply with state laws when providing state services.  Adherence to the rule of law, both federal and state as those laws govern respectively, is an unbending principle of this administration."

This story was updated at 3:41 p.m. and 5:54 p.m.