Washington, Jan. 10: The Obama administration today said that it would recognise as lawful the marriages of 1,300 same-sex couples in Utah, even though the state government is refusing to do so.
Wading into the fast-moving legal battle over same-sex marriage rights in one of America’s most socially conservative states, the administration posted a video on the justice department’s website making the announcement.
Attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr said that the federal government would grant federal marriage benefits to the same-sex couples who rushed to obtain marriage licenses after a federal judge last month unexpectedly struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. “I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognised as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Holder said in the video.
The justice department’s intervention added a further sense of whiplash to the highly charged dispute, which began on December 20 when a Federal District Court judge, Robert J. Shelby, ruled that Utah’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman violated the federal Constitution.
As same-sex couples flooded county clerk offices in Utah, the state government asked a higher-court to block the order while it appealed the ruling, but a federal appeals court declined to do so and the marriages continued. On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a stay, bringing a halt to further same-sex marriages while the litigation continues. That decision effectively left the status of those same-sex couples in legal limbo.
Then, on Wednesday, the office of the governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, said that the state will not recognise as lawful the same sex marriages already licensed. “The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts,” Derek Miller, the chief of staff to Herbert, wrote in a memo to state officials. “It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognising same-sex marriages.”
But Holder said the federal government would not do likewise. He invoked as an historic call for equality a June ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down a ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages that are legal under state law.