WASHINGTON — As the U.S. bishops deplored federal agencies’ decisions to ignore state marriage laws, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the federal government will recognize the “gay marriages” briefly contracted in Utah.
“State marriage laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman deserve respect by the federal government,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on the Defense of Marriage.
The archbishop’s comments came in a Jan. 10 letter to Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, sponsor of the State Marriage Defense Act.
Archbishop Cordileone said the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision United States v. Windsor “requires the federal government to defer to state marriage law, not disregard it.”
He “strongly encouraged” Congress to support Weber’s legislation, saying it will “prevent the federal government from unjustly disregarding, in certain instances, state marriage laws concerning the definition of marriage.”
On Jan. 10, Holder said the federal government will give federal benefits to same-sex couples who contracted marriages in Utah, recognizing them as “lawful.”
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who took office Dec. 30, 2013, told counties to give marriage certificates to same-sex couples who were civilly married during the 17 days such unions were legally recognized in the state, the Deseret News reported.
About 1,300 same-sex couples received marriage licenses in Utah during that time. However, the state does not currently recognize the unions as valid.
A federal district court judge on Dec. 20 ruled that the state’s 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman was unconstitutional. On Jan. 6, the Utah attorney general secured a stay from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to halt further legal same-sex unions.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, criticized Holder’s decision to recognize the marriages.
“It is outrageous that the Justice Department would move so brazenly and publicly to undermine Utah’s standing constitutional provision regulating marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” Brown said Jan. 10.
He said the voters and the Utah Legislature have exercised their right to define marriage, a right he said the Supreme Court upheld in the Windsor case.
Brown said Holder “is now doing the very thing that the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor held the federal government could not do — use a definition of marriage for federal law purposes that did not respect the policy choices made by the individual states.”
Missy Lawson, spokeswoman for the Utah attorney general, said the U.S. attorney general’s decision would not affect the state’s decision not to recognize the marriages, saying their validity will be determined, according to Bloomberg News, “at the end of the court process.”