Gay Utah residents who got married between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6 will have their marriages recognized by the federal government, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday.
An estimated 1,300 same-sex marriages were performed in Utah before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay Monday of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby's decision authorizing them. Shelby and a two-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously refused to stay the ruling's implementation.
Utah's governor announced Wednesday the state would not recognize the marriages pending final resolution of the case – stripping couples of the right to file joint state tax returns or jointly adopt children. Until the Friday announcement, it was unclear if federal rights – such as immigration and tax filing – would be recognized.
Holder announced the federal policy in a video posted to the Department of Justice's website, citing the same Supreme Court ruling that Shelby invoked to strike down the Utah ban.
"Last June, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in United States v. Windsor holding that Americans in same-sex marriages are entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under the law," Holder said. "This ruling marked a historic step towards equality for all American families. And since the day it was handed down, the Department of Justice has been working tirelessly to implement it in both letter and in spirit, moving to extend federal benefits to married same-sex couples as swiftly and smoothly as possible."
He continued: "These [Utah] 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 are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages."
Shelby ruled Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violated the 14th Amendment's due process and equal protection guarantees for gay and lesbian Utah residents. He rested part of his decision on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in the Windsor case. A majority of justices ruled in that case that a section of the Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting federal recognition of state same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Scalia predicted the majority's logic could be applied to state bans.