Federal government will respect marriages of same-sex couples in Utah

Today, the United States Department of Justice announced that the federal government would respect the marriages of the 1,300+ same-sex couples in Utah who have been issued marriage licenses in the state since December 20, 2013.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today in a statement and video:

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. These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.

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 in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages. And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.

This afternoon's news comes after a week of activity around the freedom to marry in Utah. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a request for a stay in a December 2013 marriage ruling that overturned anti-marriage laws in the state. On Wednesday, state officials in Utah announced that they would place a hold on recognition of same-sex couples' legal marriages. 

The Obama administration's announcement is a welcome example of how these marriages in Utah should be treated: These couples - like Jo and Lindi (right) legally applied for marriage licenses, were granted the licenses by official county clerks following a directive from a federal judge in the state, and they are now legally married. 

Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson applauded the decision today. He said:

The Attorney General’s determination that the federal government must respect married same-sex couples in Utah as what they are - married - is lawful, predictable, and correct. Even though the 1,300+ couples married in Utah are encountering unfair treatment and disrespect by their home state and the other remaining states that discriminate, these couples are as married as any couple on the planet. As cases move forward in Utah and numerous states around the country, Freedom to Marry will continue working until all couples share in the freedom to marry and all marriages are respected throughout the United States.

The lawsuit that sparked the activity in Utah is Kitchen v. Herbert, filed by private lawyers in March 2013 (this week, officials from the National Center for Lesbian Rights came aboard the suit). In December, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby found that laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying in Utah are unconstitutional, conflicting with the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law. The ruling took effect immediately, and same-sex couples began marrying that afternoon.

As we have in other states, Freedom to Marry will continue to work with local and state partner organizations to educate the public and amplify support for the freedom to marry across the state of Utah. The work to win in Utah is one element of the Roadmap to Victory, Freedom to Marry's three-prong strategy for winning marriage for same-sex couples across the country. Our goal is to tee up victory in the Supreme Court and win the freedom to marry nationwide by creating the necessary climate to empower the U.S. Supreme Court to stand on the right side of history. Read more about the Roadmap to Victory HERE.

Learn more about Kitchen v. Herbert HERE.

Photo by The New York Times