SALT LAKE CITY – The U.S. attorney general said Friday that the federal government would recognize same-sex unions in Utah, marking the latest significant show of support for gay marriage from the Obama administration.
The action means that more than 1,000 same-sex couples who were married in Utah in the last month can file federal taxes jointly, get Social Security benefits for spouses and request legal immigration status for partners, among other benefits.
The declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder 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.
A federal judge overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage on Dec. 20, and hundreds of couples got married. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened this week and put a halt to the weddings until the courts sort out the matter. Utah then declared it would not recognize the weddings, but would allow couples to continue to receive whatever benefits they had obtained before the high court ruling.
Utah leaders reiterated on Friday that the state would not recognize same-sex weddings, meaning couples can receive federal benefits but are limited at the state level. The Mormon Bhurch weighed in again Friday, instructing local leaders that same-sex wedding ceremonies and receptions are prohibited in its churches and reiterating its belief that homosexuality is not condoned by God.
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.
President Barack Obama welcomed Holder’s determination, said White House spokesman Jay Carney. He said he didn’t know whether Obama specifically discussed the issue with Holder before the decision, but added the president has publicly expressed his support for same-sex marriage and equal rights for all Americans.