Photo: Eric Holder. Credit: The Aspen Institute/flickr.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that marriages taking place in states impacted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not hear several cases challenging same-sex marriage bans will be recognized by the federal government.
“I am pleased to announce that the federal government will recognize the same-sex marriages now taking place in the affected states, and I have directed lawyers here at the Department of Justice to work with our colleagues at agencies across the Administration to ensure that all applicable federal benefits are extended to those couples as soon as possible,” Holder said in a video released by the Justice Department. “We will not delay in fulfilling our responsibility to afford every eligible couple, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, the full rights and responsibilities to which they are entitled.”
On Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in five states — Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin — thus allowing lower court decisions legalizing marriage equality in those states to stand. Because the Supreme Court left intact rulings by the 4th Circuit, 7th Circuit and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals striking down same-sex marriage bans in those five states, those appeals courts’ decisions applied to six other states in those three circuits: West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.
One day later, in a decision unrelated to the Supreme Court’s Monday decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that same-sex marriage bans in both Idaho and Nevada are unconstitutional. The three judge panel heard arguments last month considering the bans, as well as Hawaii’s, although the Hawaii ban is defunct since same-sex marriage was legalized by the state Legislature. That decision is expected to apply to Alaska, Arizona and Montana, which are covered by the 9th Circuit.
Due to those two decisions by the Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit, marriage equality is on the path to being legalized in a total of 35 states, plus D.C.
“With their long-awaited unions, we are slowly drawing closer to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans nationwide,” continued Holder, who announced last month that he would step down as attorney general once a successor is nominated and confirmed.
Although every federal appeals court to consider same-sex marriage bans have struck them down, Holder noted that a split among the circuit courts could occur, alluding to a long-awaited decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court, when considering the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky this past August, appeared most skeptical to ruling on the side of marriage equality. The court has not yet issued decisions in those cases.
“[I]f a disagreement does arise, the Supreme Court may address the question head-on,” Holder said. “If that happens, the Justice Department is prepared to file a brief consistent with its past support for marriage equality.”
Read Holder’s full statement on the next page.