The legal status of same-sex married couples in Utah has become a little murky in recent days. Attorney General Eric Holder tried to bring some clarity to the issue this afternoon.
Last month, a federal court struck down Utah’s ban on marriage equality, immediately opening the door to equal-marriage rights statewide. Roughly 1,300 couples took advantage of the opportunity and tied the legally recognized knot.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, issued a stay this week, reinstating Utah’s ban while the appeals process unfolds. And as Adam Serwer explained, state officials “took the additional step of telling the couples who were married in the meantime that, in the eyes of the state of Utah, while the litigation is ongoing, those marriages don’t count.”
AG Holder offered a response today, letting those same couples know that as far as the federal government is concerned, their marriages do count. For those who can’t watch clips online, he said in a new video:
“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. This ruling marked a historic step toward 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 spirit – moving to extend – federal benefits to married same-sex couples as swiftly and smoothly as possible.“Recently, an administrative step by the court has cast doubt on same-sex marriages that have been performed in the state of Utah. And the governor has announced that the state will not recognize these marriages pending additional court action.“In the meantime, 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. 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 in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages. And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”
As for the practical implications, Charlie Savage added, “A variety of federal benefits are accorded to legally married couples, including being able to file jointly for federal income taxes; exemption from estate taxes and eligibility for some Social Security claims if one spouse dies; eligibility for health and life insurance for spouses of federal employees; the ability to sponsor a spouse who is not a United States citizen for a family-based immigration visa; and eligibility for survivor benefits for spouses of soldiers and diplomats.”