(AP) Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday extended federal recognition to the marriages of more than 1,000 same-sex couples in Utah that took place before the Supreme Court put those unions in the state on hold.
Holder's action will enable the government to extend eligibility for federal benefits to these couples.
The attorney general said the families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their benefits while courts decide the issue of same-sex marriage in Utah.
More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples took home marriage licenses from local clerks after a federal judge overturned Utah's same-sex marriage ban on Dec. 20. Utah voters approved the ban in 2004.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court put a halt to same-sex marriages in Utah while the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the long-term question of whether gay couples have a right to marry in Utah.
"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," Holder said in a video on the Justice Department's website.
The attorney general said 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."
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group, said, "This is only the beginning of this fight, and this work continues until marriage equality returns to Utah for good."