The U.S. Justice Department is recognizing the validity of 1,400 same-sex unions that occurred between Dec. 20, 2013 and Jan. 6, 2014 and offering the couples federal benefits.
The President is going against the stay that Utah has just put into place within the last few days, and the move has angered Utah officials. Some officials are saying that the Justice Department is overreaching their authority because the federal government should not interfere in matters pertaining to state jurisdiction. However, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that the 1,400 same-sex unions have occurred legally, and therefore should be deemed as legal. This means that these unions shall be granted the same benefits as any other same-sex couple in the United States.
Holder is also concerned about the uncertainty that the families have had to go through as a result of the Utah stay on further nuptials. He has said that the uncertainty can paralyze a family and has remarked that it is incredibly unfair that the families have had to go through wondering whether or not their marriages are identified as valid.
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), however, is displeased by the federal government’s perceived interference in the matter. The NOM’s president, Brian Brown, says the President’s decision to recognize the validity of these unions has completely disregarded what the state’s voters have voted into existence. “It is the right of states to determine marriage, and the voters and legislature of Utah have done just that,” he said in a statement.
Marriage, however, has not been a states rights issue since the Supreme Court struck down the notion of interracial marriages being illegal several decades ago. It has been some time that the topic of marriage has been determined as a human rights issue, and the debate has started to rage as to whether or not Utah had the right to ban the same-sex unions. By the same token, the question has arisen as to whether or not the Justice Department should have gotten into the legal issues that have arisen as a result of the on-again, off-again same-sex marriage law.
The Justice Department, in recognizing the validity of some 1,400 marriages, has effectively circumvented the stay that the Utah government has put into place. However, the Supreme Court has not yet determined the actual legality of same-sex marriages, which means that Utah is either making law or upholding it. The Supreme Court has struck down California’s Proposition 8, leading to a flood of same-sex unions, and struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as well.
There are many couples, however, that did get marriage licenses during the three-week span when same-sex unions were legal but were not able to actually get the ceremony done prior to the current stay. It is virtually certain that these couples will be watching the Supreme Court to see whether the highest court in the land will actually support their unions. However, it remains to be seen just how long these couples will be kept in limbo waiting to see if they can marry.
By Christina St-Jean