Same-sex marriages performed in Utah will be recognized by the federal government, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday.
Holder's decision means that the approximately 1,000 same-sex couples married in Utah since December will be eligible for federal tax, estate and other benefits.
"These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds," Holder declared. "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."
A federal judge in Utah on Dec. 20 struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages. Hundreds of same-sex couples began getting married, but the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday put a hold on the marriages until Utah's appeal could be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Holder's decision, which he made in a videotaped announcement, follows in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling last year striking down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act. The provision blocked same-sex couples from obtaining myriad federal benefits afforded opposite-sex couples.
"Since the day it was handed down, the Department of Justice has been working tirelessly to implement it in both letter and spirit, moving to extend federal benefits to married same-sex couples as swiftly and smoothly as possible," Holder said.
Utah Attorney General Sean D. Hayes earlier this week left in question the marital status of the state's same-sex couples, saying that "the validity of the marriages in question must ultimately be decided by the legal appeals process."
White House Press Jay Carney said President Barack Obama, who in 2012 endorsed same sex marriage, "welcomes" Holder's decision.
Carney said Obama "has expressed his views publicly about same-sex marriage and the need for equal rights for all Americans," but that the determination was made by Holder.