Utah Gay Spouses Recognized By Federal Government In Justice Department Decision

In great news for Utah's same-sex newlyweds, the Justice Department has announced that over 1,300 gay marriages conducted during the brief period same-sex marriage was legal in the state are to be federally recognized. The statement comes two days after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the state would not recognize those marriages, nor give the couples state benefits.

In other words, those 1,300-plus married couples who married during a brief period after Utah's gay marriage ban was declared unconstitutional are eligible for the same federal benefits as same-sex spouses. They can file with the IRS jointly, and offer their spouses health and life insurance coverage. Last week, that window was closed when the Supreme Court temporarily halted marriages while they waited for a conclusive ruling on the state's gay marriage ban.

Said Attorney General Eric Holder:

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.

Unfortunately, the decision doesn't make a complicated situation any clearer.

The tug-of-war over gay marriage in Utah stepped up a notch on Dec. 20, when Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional under the equal rights section of the Constitution. Counties began issuing licenses before the state appealed to the courts to put a halt on the kerfuffle.

Shelby blocked the first appeal, but on Monday, further ceremonies were put on hold until a district court located in Denver could figure out whether the ban does violate the Constitution. Arguments in the case could begin by the start of March.

And the decision reached then could have resounding effects, as it would apply to all states within that court's supervision: Colorado, Kansas, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Oklahoma.

Image: Getty