Attorney General Holder says the couples should not be asked to endure uncertainty while a legal dispute continues.
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
The move by Attorney General
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."
The National Organization for Marriage called Holder's announcement "outrageous."
"The Justice Department's edict today expressly contradicts the determination of Utah's governor and attorney general, and represents one of the most significant overreaches of federal authority imaginable," said Brian Brown, NOM's president.
Same-sex couples in Utah applaud the Justice Department's move.
"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