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 the state's 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."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert put state recognition of same-sex marriages on hold Wednesday on advice from his attorney general, Sean Reyes. Neither Herbert nor Reyes had immediate comment on Holder's announcement.
The declaration from the Justice Department was applauded by same-sex couples in Utah.
"It gives me hope moving forward in the appeals process," Moudi Sbeity said. "It shows that there really is a social and cultural shift in viewpoints and mindsets toward marriage equality."
Sbeity and partner Derek Kitchen are among three couples who brought the Utah lawsuit that led to the surprise Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, who said the state's ban on same-sex marriage violated gay and lesbian couples' constitutional rights.