Holder: If Supreme Court won’t act on same-sex marriage, feds will

The Obama administration is moving to formally recognize same-sex unions in states where the Supreme Court declined this month to rule on the legality of gay marriage bans.

In announcing the government’s legal posture, Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderDylann Roof’s 'show trial' exhibits Justice Department at its worst Sessions AG pick missed chance to remove partisanship from Justice Commutation of unfair sentences, an issue of human rights MORE said he has directed Justice Department lawyers to work with agencies across the federal apparatus to ensure full benefits to gay married couples in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

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“We will not delay in fulfilling our responsibility to afford every eligible couple, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, the full rights and responsibilities to which they are entitled,” Holder said. “With their long-awaited unions, we are slowly drawing closer to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans nationwide.”

In a shock to many legal experts, the justices announced earlier this month that they would not take any of seven cases involving the five states that had been pending before the high court.

Though those states, and dozens more across the country, are looking to the court to weigh in on the contentious issue, federal circuit courts have thus far been unanimous in finding bans on gay marriage unconstitutional.

In the event that a federal circuit court rules in favor of a state’s gay marriage ban, the court is likely to step in. Holder said the Justice Department is prepared to file a brief in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples. 

In the meantime, given the recent rulings and the Supreme Court’s silence, Holder said people in same-sex marriages are eligible for federal benefits under the court’s 5-4 ruling last year to strike down major provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“The steady progress toward LGBT equality we’ve seen — and celebrated — is important and historic,” Holder said. “And we will continue to work—to the very best of our ability—to bring about a more equal future for all Americans nationwide.”