Obama Administration Recognizes Utah Same-Sex Marriages Under Federal Law

Katie Burke, Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C.

The Obama Administration announced Friday that the federal government will recognize approximately 1,360 same-sex marriages performed in Utah since December 2013, despite the state’s refusal to acknowledge these marriages.

On January 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby’s December 20, 2013 decision, which had declared Utah’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced Tuesday that, pending appeal, the state will not recognize the roughly 1,360 same-sex marriages legally performed in the two weeks preceding the stay.

Speaking for the Obama Administration, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated Friday: “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.”

With U.S. v. Windsor in June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, in that it prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. Holder said Friday that the Department of Justice has worked to implement U.S. v. Windsor since the Supreme Court issued the June ruling. The case empowers the Obama Administration to recognize Utah’s approximately 1,360 legally performed same-sex marriages, despite that the state has declined to do so.

Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, called the Justice Department’s decision “outrageous,” stating that it had “brazenly and publicly” tried to undermine Utah’s constitutional provision defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

But Herbert said Friday that Holder’s announcement did not surprise him, and that Utah will continue providing same-sex couples with federal services, but no state services or benefits.

About the author:

Katie-BurkeKatie Burke has practiced family law for ten years. She joined Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C. in 2012, and belongs to the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Family Law Section and the Queen’s Bench Domestic Violence Committee. Katie occasionally writes family law articles for Nolo and Trial Insider.