More than 1,300 same-sex couples received marriage licenses in Utah in the 17 days after a federal court judge struck down the state’s one-man one-woman marriage law – and before the Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of that order. Those couples are now in a serious legal limbo.
Because on Tuesday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s office told state agencies not to recognize the marriage licenses when considering applications for state-issued benefits.
In the words of his chief of staff the “state recognition of same-sex marriage is ON HOLD until further notice.” ON HOLD, all caps.
The newlywed same-sex couples cannot enjoy state benefits for married couples – they cannot change their names on their driver’s licenses, or adopt their spouse’s children, or file state taxes jointly, until the case is settled by an appeals court. But the question of whether those marriages will be recognized by the federal government has been answered unequivocally. And that’s why my letter this week is to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Dear Attorney General Holder,
It’s me, Melissa.
Let’s take a listen to what you said in a video statement issued this Friday.
“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.”
Now, Mr. Holder, you said that really calmly. Almost kinda boring, actually. No offense. But I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that what you’re saying is a really big deal. You’re saying that the federal government will recognize Utah’s 1,300 same sex marriages – even though the state won’t!
Those couples can get federal benefits, such as health insurance for spouses of federal employees and the ability to sponsor a spouse for a visa. The governor’s office in Utah might be putting those marriages “ON HOLD” – all caps – but you, Mr. Attorney General, and the federal government aren’t waiting.
All those newlyweds out there - their marriage is legal in the eyes of the federal government. And this from a member of an administration that has been criticized, villified and demonized for allegedly overstepping its bounds, for trampling states’ rights, for imposing the will of the president on the lives of the people.
But Mr. Attorney General, did you care about that perception? Nope. Now we know you, Mr. Attorney General, you are much calmer and more measured than I would be when speaking about these things.
Mr. Holder, you’re deceptive that way. Like a duck! Calm and cool on the surface, gliding along all easy peasy–but underwater, your feet are paddling furiously, propelling this country forward to justice through the waters of inequality!
Now, I do have one request. If the Utah marriage ban is upheld – if the state invalidates those 13 hundred marriages – I hope that you will continue to recognize those marriages as valid, even if the state refuses to do so.
Keep paddling, Mr. Attorney General.