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U.S. Recognizes Marriages of Gay Utah Couples

(CN) - The marriages of 1,300 Utah same-sex couples will be recognized by the federal government even while their own state has pledged not to, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday.

Gay and lesbian couples began marrying immediately after U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby found last month that the Beehive State's ban on same-sex marriages violated the rights of due process and equal protection. He cited last year's U.S. Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman, as precedent for his permanent injunction.

But Utah officials - convinced that a gay-marriage ban is the will of its predominately Mormon population - petitioned the Supreme Court to reinstate the ban pending review by a federal appeals court. The state says Shelby's ruling interferes with its ability to enforce its own laws.

The justices stayed Shelby's injunction without comment earlier this week. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said shortly after that the state would not recognize any of the marriages performed while it presses forward with its case.

In a press conference Friday, however, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Windsor decision "marked a historic step toward equality for all American families" and that the Supreme Court's stay "cast doubt on same-sex marriages that have been performed in Utah."

Holder added that the Justice Department has been working since Windsor to extend federal benefits to same-sex married couples - including those married in Utah.

"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."

Utah will make its case before the 10th Circuit in Denver, which had previously denied the state's request to stay the Shelby ruling. That court has promised an expedited appeal, with briefs due at the end of February.

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