The federal government will treat Utah same-sex couples as married, even if the state of Utah won't.
"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," Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday. "These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds."
Uncertainty for the estimated 1,300 same-sex married couples in Utah is inevitable. Weeks ago a federal judge struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The state asked the Supreme Court to stay the judge's decision while litigation continued, halting further same-sex marriages in the state. Then earlier this week, Utah 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.
"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," Holder said.
Since Utah's decision not to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, the American Civil Liberties Union has been preparing for possible litigation to force the state to do so. "We have heard from hundreds of couples interested in supporting our potential litigation," said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah.
Evan Wolfson, president of the pro same-sex marriage rights group Freedom To Marry, said the Obama administration had made the right decision.
"These couples are married, period, and the federal government is right to treat them as what they are," Wolfson said. "The federal government is doing the right thing, and states like Utah that are clinging to anti-gay discrimination are doing the wrong thing."