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Washington (AFP) – The United States government said Friday it would give full federal backing to more than 1,000 same-sex marriages in Utah which the socially conservative state has refused to recognize.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said gay and lesbian couples who married in Utah after a judge struck down a state law banning same-sex marriage would be eligible for federal benefits enjoyed by other couples.

“I am confirming today that, for the purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Holder said in a statement.

It was the latest twist in a legal battle that erupted in December when a federal judge overturned Utah’s law banning same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court on Monday temporarily blocked any further same-sex marriages in Utah after the state filed an emergency request to stay the judge’s ruling.

On Wednesday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s staff sent a memo to state officials instructing them not to recognize the same-sex marriages carried out in a 17-day window that was closed by this week’s Supreme Court ruling.

“With the district court injunction now stayed, the original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts,” Herbert’s chief of staff Derek Miller said in the memo.

“It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages.”

Some 1,300 marriage licenses for same-sex couples were issued in the period between the two rulings in Utah, which is home to a large Mormon population.

Holder, however, said the federal government would fully recognize the same-sex marriages in Utah, in keeping with last June’s landmark Supreme Court ruling which found that couples in same-sex marriages were entitled to the same benefits and protections as their heterosexual counterparts.

Holder said the U.S. Justice Department had been “working tirelessly” to ensure the Supreme Court ruling was enforced.

“In the days ahead, we will continue to co-ordinate 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,” Holder said.

“We will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available,” he added.

AFP Photo/Al Seib

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