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Federal government says it recognizes Utah same-sex marriages

Friday, January 10, 2014

Updated: 3:45 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has extended federal recognition to the marriages of more than 1,000 same-sex couples in Utah that took place before the Supreme Court put those unions in the state on hold.

The action will enable the government to extend eligibility for federal benefits to these couples. That means gay and lesbian couples can file federal taxes jointly, get Social Security benefits for spouses and request legal immigration status for partners.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their benefits while courts decide the issue of same-sex marriage in Utah.

The decision came days after Utah officials said they would not recognize the marriages. The office of Gov. Gary Herbert told state agencies this week to put a freeze on proceeding with any new benefits for the newly married gay and lesbian couples until the courts sort out the matter.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Herbert’s office issued a statement that said Holder’s announcement was unsurprising, but state officers should comply with federal law if they’re providing federal services.

Attorney General Sean Reyes did not have an immediate comment on Holder’s announcement.

More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples took home marriage licenses from local clerks after a federal judge overturned Utah’s same-sex marriage ban on Dec. 20. Utah voters approved the ban in 2004.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court put a halt to same-sex marriages in Utah while the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the long-term question of whether gay couples have a right to marry in Utah.

State agencies aren’t supposed to revoke anything already issued, such as a marriage certificate or a driver’s license with a new name, but they are prohibited from approving any new marriages or benefits. State officials said the validity of the marriages will ultimately be decided by the appeals court.

Holder’s declaration marked the latest chapter in the legal battle over same-sex marriage in Utah that has sent couples and state officials on a helter-skelter wave of emotions over the last three weeks.

Federal government agencies have previously confirmed that same-sex couples in other states are entitled to federal benefits, but this is the first time Holder has come out publicly and issued this kind of guidance, said Douglas NeJaime, a professor of law at the University of California, Irvine.

“Symbolically, it’s an important step that the federal; government has taken,” NeJaime said.

But it’s not surprising, he said. The federal government has been making clear for several years that same-sex marriages should be honored.

“The fed government has been pushing up against the states that do not recognize same-sex marriages already,” NeJaime said. “This is another step in that direction.”

Holder said in a video on the Justice Department’s website that the government will coordinate among agencies in the coming days to make sure Utah couples get the federal benefits they are entitled to.

The attorney general said 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’s declaration was greeted with applause among same-sex couples in Utah.

“It gives me hope moving forward in the appeals process,” Moudi Sbeity said. “It shows that there really is a social and cultural shift in viewpoints and mindsets toward marriage equality.”

Sbeity and partner Derek Kitchen are among three couples who brought the Utah lawsuit that led to the surprise Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, who said the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violated gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights.

Sbeity said he hope s Holder’s declaration will persuade Herbert to shift the state’s position. “I’m sure he doesn’t want 1,300 lawsuits on his desk,” Sbeity said.

Several hundred same-sex marriage supporters were planning a rally at the Utah State Capitol on Friday afternoon. Organizers planned to deliver a petition to the governor and state attorney general asking them to let the federal judge’s ruling stand and allow gay marriages to continue.

Tim Wagner of Salt Lake City, one of the organizers of the rally said Holder’s announcement was “pretty amazing” and a great thing for the newly married couples.

“It sounds like our national attorney general actually sees the law in the way it should be acknowledged,” Wagner said. “The law is on the side of rights and the people who want to love the people they love.”

On Thursday, the Utah attorney general issued legal advice to local clerks, advising them to finish paperwork for same-sex marriages completed before the Supreme Court issued a temporary halt.

Reyes’ new advice was issued to clear up some confusion and only applies to marriages that were solemnized, said his spokeswoman, Missy Larsen.

“As long as the marital ceremony happened prior to the stay, then the marriage can receive documentation,” Larsen said.

The attorney general’s office said Thursday’s guidance was not a decision on whether the marriages are valid.

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77 more reader comments:

  1. Alright Utah!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:17pm
  2. Great news!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:17pm
  3. Yes!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:17pm
  4. COOL!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:18pm
  5. Now, if this entire issue could become a non issue, and we all could move forward as a society!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:20pm
  6. LOVE wins again !!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:21pm
  7. :)

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:21pm
  8. The United States Department of Justice needs to file a SCOTUS amicus brief for LGBTQ Utah married couples

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:21pm
  9. That’s what matters. That’s where all the most meaningful legal benefits of marriage are.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:21pm
  10. The poor guy is gonna starve himself hahaha

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:21pm
  11. let him starve he made his decision!

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:18pm
  12. Take that Mormans!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:22pm
  13. Awesome

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:23pm
  14. fantastic!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:25pm
  15. I married in california but it feels so good to have the federal government on my side.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:26pm
  16. Congratulations! ♥♥♥

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:08pm
  17. Awesome news. Now to just legalize it in every state :)

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:26pm
  18. Bout Time!!!!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:29pm
  19. Equal Rights means EQUAL RIGHTS …. how simple is that? We all pay taxes!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:31pm
  20. I Think It Should Be A National Law Marry Who You Want I’m So Sick Of Hearing These Poor Excuses Why The States Don’t Want Too Tell Our Government To Grow Up And Accept Love Is Love…..

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:32pm
  21. As it should be!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:34pm
  22. that’s wonderful. thank you ERIC HOLDER.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:37pm
  23. Right on! I live downtown in SLC. The LGBT community here is so awesome. That is great news.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:53pm
  24. Why does it feel like so much of the legalization is occurring via circular logic? DOMA bans something that does not exist at the time it becomes law and now its overturning is used as a basis to grant what was denied but did not exist? Even now marriages occurred because a stay on appeal was not granted and now the fact that some marriages were granted in that window is used to make it all legal? I just feels so circular and I shudder to consider what that precedent will lead to.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:54pm
  25. Everyone should be allowed to marry the one they love. Love is love is love. Get over it, all you homophobic crybabies!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:06pm
  26. Thank you for doing the decent thing.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:08pm
  27. Why doesn’t the Federal government stay out of the States business!!! If the people of Utah or anywhere for that matter vote not to recognize Same sex marriage, then that’s it Period. We need to stop bowing to the special interest shoved down our throats by the Federal Government. Free country means free for everybody not just the loudest whiner. Nobody has stopped gays from cohabitating, or adopting, or from being in a civil union. So stop your damn whining I mean all this shit for a word, “marriage”!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:11pm
  28. Actually there are only a few states that support civil unions, and there are states that the gay community is not allowed to adopt in: Florida, Arkansas, Michigan, and Mississippi, and a lot of places don't CLEARLY say it is against the law, but they also don't say you can either: http://gaylife.about.com/od/gayparentingadoption/a/gaycoupleadopt.htm

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:59pm
  29. CIVIL UNION: Civil union exists in three states: New Jersey, Illinois, and Hawaii. Civil union was first created in Vermont, in 2000, to provide some legal protections and responsibilities to gay and lesbian couples at the state level, but in 2009 the state legislature ended gay couples exclusion from marriage after realizing civil union created a second class citizenship. Cobbled together as both the state and the nation were just beginning to engage in a conversation about the inherent unfairness of legal discrimination in marriage, civil unions have since proven to be ineffective, a separate but unequal status (pdf) that often heightens the need for access to both the tangible and intangible protections that only marriage can afford. The protections and responsibilities do not extend beyond the border of the states in which the civil union was entered, offer murky access to separation laws, and no federal protections are included with a civil union. DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP: Domestic partnerships are a form of union under which gay (and sometimes non-gay) couples in some states or regions can formalize their partnerships. Oregon's domestic partnership law went into effect in February 2008. However, as with civil union the status remains a separate and unequal legal compromise which does not apply when a couple travels out of state, and offers no federal protections. Aside from Oregon, a hodge-podge of domestic partnership laws (statewide/district-wide in Nevada) and registries offer a wildly varying selection of protections and responsibilities which can change from zip code to zip code. Many domestic partnership registries offer no rights or protections at all and simply serve as a written acknowledgment of a couple's commitment to each other.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:02pm
  30. Source: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/marriage-versus-civil-unions-domestic-partnerships-etc

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:02pm
  31. What i was trying to say is why do we need state or fed telling any American who they can or can not marry.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:02pm
  32. I just Government should just but out of everyones life's we need less government not more

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:03pm
  33. Well, to be honest, I don't understand why anyone is allowed to vote on someone else's rights, when the outcome won't affect them at all. In the reality of it, everyone should just be equal. It's hard, when you belong to the LGBTQA community. When I was looking through colleges, for example, there were places I had to immediately eliminate because I knew I wouldn't be safe, despite the fact that one of them had a really really nice teaching program that I would have excelled in, it was in a state where hate crime violence toward the LGBTQA community was high. I have to be careful where I plan on building my life, or where I want to live because I could end up falling in love with a place only to find out that it's too dangerous to live in. While that's true for most minorities, it's a little different because people are often blatantly racist or sexist, but they can be totally fine and nice to your face...until they meet your partner, or find out you're gay. It makes it that much harder.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:17pm
  34. So sometimes we need big authority like the federal government to step up and stand for the rights of others, because, even though it won't fix everything, it at least puts the law on our side in one more issue.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:19pm
  35. I disagree that is not what the fed gov. is for. the fed is in our life way to much we need smaller gov. let the state and their people take care of the problems. im for less gov not more. I don't think any gov state or fed should tell me who i can or can't marry. it's unconstitutional.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:23pm
  36. The Federal government is suppose to represent the best interests of the people. I'm a tax paying citizen, and my rights should be protected, just like everyone elses (not just the gay community, but everyone). States shouldn't be allowed to make decisions like who I can marry, because it affects taxes which are almost always a federal issue. The government can get out of our lives in other ways, but they need to stand up for the rights of the citizens when they know what's right.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:33pm
  37. So you think that states and the people of the states don't know what is best for their state. So we have to have Fed. government to say other wise.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:39pm
  38. I think states should not be allowed to vote on civil rights, and or whether or not I can adopt. States should make decisions about the budgets and other state level issues (fixing roads, budgets, jobs, even schools to some extent) . If we let things like this go to the state level, we will have places that will never change. I think states should make decisions on the state level, but when those decisions marginalize people or take away rights, the federal government needs to step in an enforce the rights of the people.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:44pm
  39. so you the Big Gov. knows better? really what your saying you have a better change getting what you want by letting Fed Gov. make the choice. then state and the states people.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:50pm
  40. What I'm saying is that, when it comes to state governments, often times, minorities are greatly under represented. If we look back through the history of the civil rights movement, we can see a pretty clear trend of what happens when we let state governments make decisions based on the rights of the citizens who live there and the divide it creates.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:56pm
  41. There are plenty of decisions that should be left up to states, but civil rights are not one of them.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:59pm
  42. I think they should weigh in because the people of the state knows best for their state. no FED

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:02pm
  43. It's not fair if they weigh in because it affects my taxes, my right to adopt, and others. These are my rights, as a citizen of the united states, not as a citizen of the state of Oregon. Sure they know what's good for their states in a lot of issues! But where in the USA would gay marriage affect them?! That's my problem. No one should weigh in, they need to get out of it and the government should just make it legal.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:07pm
  44. like i said we should not need any Gov. telling us who we can marry. I i know the constitution and it's unconstitutional for fed or state to tell anyone who they can marry.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:14pm
  45. quit playing games with our community.this is peoples lives..they have it- they dont have it- THEY HAVE IT..fs

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:12pm
  46. Daniel, one of the purposes of the constitution is to protect civil liberty, therefore it is unconstitutional for a government to accept a law denying people of their civil liberty/constitutional rights even if the people vote on it.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:15pm
  47. I agree with you.

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:07pm
  48. It’s the right thing to do!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:19pm
  49. This is why I vote democratic I care for ALL people not just the old rich white 1% vote people every time every midterm every election every public election.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:19pm
  50. So they are legal and Utah can’t stop them MUAHAHAHAHAHA. Fuck Utah!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:40pm
  51. Erin Greatrext news, victory!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:47pm
  52. Good for the Federal government. They are doing the right thing and moving forward. Live and let live.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:53pm
  53. Let see now how Utah will handle it, with the Federal Government pressure and as they did it to be part of the Confederation to relinquish the Polygamy, it would be interesting that if they want to continue t be part of the Confederation, it could be great to pressure them to accept Homosexuality as part of the human fabric and not a choice by “their” cult. Amen!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:15pm
  54. It’s about time that starts.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:15pm
  55. Daniel Wilson your a fool. I won’t stand by and have my rights taken from me. The federal government protects me from assholes like you! It is written. Federal goverment recognized me. Thats all she wrote.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:32pm
  56. you really show your intelligence. you need to get educated before u open ur mouth

    Replied on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:09pm
  57. Ugh. Make up your minds!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:33pm
  58. YES!!!!! Sad that it’s not across the board legal in every state and property of the United States —-YET!!!! Love is love, marriage is marriage , and family is family. Genders , races nor religions should prevent unions —-ANYWHERE!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:40pm
  59. Yes !!!!!!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:54pm
  60. Yeah!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 8:46pm
  61. Praise The Lord!!!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:11pm
  62. THE USA MOVES SLOWER THAN A SNAIL WHEN IT COMES TO JUSTICE AND EQUALITY,SOME REPRESENTATION AND EXAMPLE FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD, A NATION WHO DECIDED TO BECOME THE WORLD POLICE= BIGGEST OPPRESSORS OF HUMAN KIND!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:18pm
  63. WOOO HOOOO!!!!!!!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:31pm
  64. Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 10:00pm
  65. Please correct me if I am wrong but didn’t the SCOTUS ruling on DOMA essentially say that if a state says a gay marriage license is legal then the feds have to honor it? Isn’t this action by the AG outside of that ruling? If the state says the license is not legit than how can the feds say that it is?

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 10:19pm
  66. What a FARCE! Seems to me the Federal vs. State legislature spat has never really gone away in the more backward states!

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 10:20pm
  67. Well, the 10thCircuit hearing is next month; maybe they’ll get this settled before tax day.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 10:25pm
  68. so, the federal government recognizes. the state doesn’t. sounds like they can joint file with federal taxes, at least. the state issue is still a huge hassle though.

    Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 11:44pm
  69. This is fantastic news. I hope that this is a sign that the US government is coming closer to a realization that gay marriage should be the norm across the land.

    Posted on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 12:39am
  70. Thank you!!! I believe, Mr. Holder, you are setting the next road to marriage equaity..

    Posted on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 1:29am
  71. Yay!!!

    Posted on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 1:47am
  72. Make it a federal law a human right not up for debate or discussion anymore, stop putting our rights behind religious groups

    Posted on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 3:41am
  73. awesome recognition

    Posted on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 3:54am
  74. nah nah nah nah nah….

    Posted on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 6:44am
  75. See, we just keep multiplying….isn’t it fab?

    Posted on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 10:41am
  76. It now should be legal for everyone!

    Posted on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 1:17pm
  77. FANTASTIC!! Thank you God for President Obama!!

    Posted on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 1:23pm