SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that the federal government will recognize same-sex unions in Utah, marking the latest significant show of support for gay marriage from the Obama administration.
The action means that more than 1,000 same-sex couples who were married in Utah in the past month can file federal taxes jointly, get Social Security benefits for spouses and request legal immigration status for partners, among other benefits.
The declaration by Holder marked the latest chapter in the legal battle over same-sex marriage in Utah that has sent couples and state officials on a helter-skelter wave of emotions over the past three weeks.
A federal judge overturned Utah's ban on same-sex marriage on Dec. 20, and hundreds of couples got married. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened this week and put a halt to the weddings until the courts sort out the matter. Utah then declared it would not recognize the weddings but would allow couples to continue to receive whatever benefits they had obtained before the high court ruling.
The Mormon church weighed in again Friday, instructing local leaders that same-sex wedding ceremonies and receptions are prohibited in its churches and reiterating its belief that homosexuality is not condoned by God.
But for same-sex couples who have experienced a wave of emotions, the show of support from the federal government provided validation and turned a rally at the Utah Capitol into a raucous celebration.
Among the hundreds of people who packed the rotunda for the midday rally were Seth Anderson and Michael Ferguson, the first gay couple to legally marry in Utah following the Dec. 20 ruling. They said they were elated to hear that they will be allowed to file taxes jointly and enjoy the benefits afforded any married couple.
"It is a great feeling to know the federal government stands with us, especially in a state that has for years tried to exclude us," Anderson said.