Same-sex marriage gets another big boost from the Obama administration

US Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday that the Obama administration is adding six more states to the list of those where federal benefits would be granted to same-sex married couples, bringing the total such states to 32.

Patrick Breen/The Arizona Republic/AP
Erika Alvarez, right, embraces Abby Ortiz during their marriage ceremony at the Coconino County Courthouse in Flagstaff, Ariz. Same-sex marriage became legal in Arizona this month.

Midway through his first term, President Obama said he was "unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage." As a US Senate candidate he had declared his belief that "marriage is between a man and a woman."

But Obama also mused that "attitudes evolve, including mine," and it seems now that that evolution has occurred at head-snapping speed – prompted by others in his administration, including Vice president Joe Biden (who apparently got out ahead of his boss on the issue) and Attorney General Eric Holder.

On Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration is adding six more states to the list of those where federal benefits would be granted to same-sex married couples, bringing the total such states to 32.

Practically speaking, that means gay couples legally married under state law now qualify for such federal benefits as Social Security and veterans' benefits.

"With each new state where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, our nation moves closer to achieving of full equality for all Americans," Mr. Holder said in a statement. "We are acting as quickly as possible with agencies throughout the government to ensure that same-sex married couples in these states receive the fullest array of benefits allowable under federal law."

Gay marriage recently became legal in Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming – the six states Holder announced Saturday.

The announcement follows the US Supreme Court's decision earlier this month to decline to hear appeals from five states that sought to keep their marriage bans in place. It brings the total number of states with federal recognition of gay marriage to 32, plus the District of Columbia.

On Oct. 17, Holder made a similar announcement for seven states: Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In addition, the Attorney General also said that the Department of Justice has determined it can legally recognize marriages performed in Indiana and Wisconsin this past June, according to Saturday's announcement.

These marriages were performed immediately after federal district courts ruled that those states’ bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, but subsequent developments created confusion about the status of those marriages. Based on the Attorney General’s announcement, however, those couples married during that period will now have their unions recognized by the federal government.

“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,” Holder said last week. “With their long-awaited unions, we are slowly drawing closer to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans nationwide.”

“The steady progress toward LGBT equality we’ve seen – and celebrated – is important and historic,” Holder said. “And we will continue to work – to the very best of our ability – to bring about a more equal future for all Americans nationwide.” 

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