Attorney General Eric Holder has made an announcement that the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages in six more states. After a period of watershed developments for marriage equality proponents, this brings the number of states with federal recognition of same-sex marriages to 32. Last week, Holder’s office made a similar announcement which affected seven states. This announcement affects Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming. There is still opposition to same-sex marriage in some states and cases regarding aspects of the issue are going forward. Nevertheless, there will be couples in six more states where same-sex marriages will get the federal recognition they have fought so hard to get.
The statement by Office of the Attorney General released on October 25 is part of Eric Holder’s progress towards marriage equality. He has been an outspoken supporter of gay civil rights, specifically marriage equality. In the statement he remarked that “our nation moves closer to achieving of [sic] equality for all Americans” as recognition is offered to more couples. 32 states as well as the District of Columbia now receive federal recognition of their same-sex marriages, which means more benefits are available to them as couples. Benefits administered by the federal government, including those of Social Security and the Department of veterans Affairs, can now be received by married gay couples in those recognized states. The six new states now getting federal recognition for their same-sex marriages are Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Some of these states had rulings handed down by the judiciary last week regarding same-sex marriage, but this ruling has highlighted the next steps for same-sex marriage opponents. North Carolina lawmakers in particular have been vocal about their ongoing fight to keep a gay marriage ban in the state. A judge’s decision struck down the state’s gay marriage ban, resulting in some magistrates resigning from their office. As they are opposed to same-sex marriage and would refuse to officiate one, they resigned rather than be fired for not fulfilling their duty.
In Idaho, a pair of ministers who officiate at a wedding chapel have filed a lawsuit because their town’s anti-discrimination ordinance would force them to officiate same-sex marriages. As Christians, they said they could not in good conscience marry gay couples because of their religious beliefs. This story has been held up by some as an example of what happens when gay marriage is put in place and Christians get targeted by legislation. However, this case is mostly concerned with the wedding chapel’s status as a “place of public accommodation” which operates for profit. Churches and religious institutions are exempt from anti-discrimination laws because they run on a not-for-profit basis and are not considered a business. Should the Wedding Chapel be found to be a for-profit business, it would not be able to discriminate based on sexuality despite the operating ministers’ religious beliefs. In addition, it should be noted that while the plaintiffs in the case are concerned over being charged with a violation, they have not be charged at all and this is a proactive move on their part.
After the announcement on Saturday, The Atlantic noted that 39 percent of Americans now live in a state where gay marriage is not recognized by the federal government. They observed that only 39 percent of the American people now oppose same-sex marriage and concluded that anyone who opposed it and lived in a state where it was recognized was living in the wrong state. This tongue in cheek analysis points at the growing support for marriage equality that exists in the United States and the progress towards equality that has been made in recent days. Eric Holder’s announcement that six more states will be getting federal recognition for their same-sex marriages is a part of that progress and welcomed by a majority of the country.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury