Eric Holder (Getty Images)
Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
The Justice Department said Friday that the Obama administration will recognize more than 1,300 same-sex marriages that were left in legal limbo in Utah after the state won an injunction to stop additional unions.
The couples were married during a brief period after a federal court ruled that Utah's ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.
That window was closed last week when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporarily stay of the lower court ruling.
The move by Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday directly counters a decision by Utah to put the recognition of those marriages on hold pending an outcome of its challenge of the federal court ruling.
Holder said in a videotaped statement Friday that the Obama administration will recognize the marriages as they apply to federal matters.
"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," Holder said .
"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 are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages."
The chief of staff to Utah's Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said in a message to state agencies on Wednesday that the state was placing its recognition of the 1,300 marriages on hold.
"Please understand this position is not intended to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages - that is for the courts to decide," Derek Miller, Herbert's chief of staff said Wednesday. "The intent of this communication is to direct state agency compliance with current laws that prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages."
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, hailed the decision by Holder.
"This is only the beginning of this fight, and this work continues until marriage equality returns to Utah for good, and full equality reaches every American in all 50 states'" said HRC President Chad Griffin.