Despite a federal judge striking down Utah’s gay marriage ban, and the state government appealing the order asking for a stay, and despite the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the temporary blocking of the federal judge’s order made by the appeals court – the Department of Justice has announced that it is going to recognize gay marriages conducted in Utah.
Somehow, this does no more involve only gay marriages, their constitutionality, and their status in Utah or elsewhere. The matter is in court and pending. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that the stay on the order should be there until matters are resolved in court. But the executive takes an action, and with impunity, that reduces the status of the entire judicial system to that of paper tigers.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder announced on Friday that the federal government would recognize the more than 1,300 same-sex marriages that took place in Utah during the past three weeks and the couples will be eligible for all federal rights pertaining to married couples including joint filing of tax.
While Holder’s step is obviously humanitarian, it also seems calculated to threaten the power of the judiciary in having much of any say in the matter. This is surprising coming from the leader of the Department of Justice.
In a videotaped statement, Holder announced, “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.”
While a federal district judge had ruled on Dec 20 that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, the matter was challenged by the state government in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 10th Circuit declined to grant any injunction against the order of the federal judge during pendency of the appeal. Later the U.S. Supreme Court granted an injunction until the appeal was disposed of by the 10th Circuit.
Before the 10th Circuit could have its say in the matter, Holder stepped in.