The news: The federal government will recognize same-sex marriage in six new states — Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming — announced Attorney General Eric Holder on Saturday.
Besides federal recognition of their unions, couples in those states will now receive federal benefits, like Social Security benefits and the option of filing a joint tax return.
The move comes on the heels of a recent Supreme Court decision not to hear appeals in cases that legalized gay marriage in several states including Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
"With each new state where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, our nation moves closer to achieving full equality for all Americans," Holder said in a statement. "We are acting as quickly as possible with agencies throughout the government to ensure that same-sex marriage couples in these states receive the fullest array of benefits allowable under federal law."
How did this come about? In early October, the Supreme Court declined to hear a set of cases involving same-sex marriage, which allowed decisions favoring marriage equality in the lower courts to stand. In doing so, the high court effectively paved the way for gay marriage in 11 states; Saturday's announcement by the Justice Department was an expansion of this decision.
In his statement, Holder noted that same-sex marriages performed in Indiana and Wisconsin in June would also be recognized. The status of those marriages had previously been fuzzy; as USA Today notes, "Holder's statement clarifies that the federal government sees those marriages as valid."
Why it matters: The Attorney General made a similar announcement last week about seven other states — Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Saturday's announcement brings the grand total of states in which same-sex marriage is recognized by the federal government up to 32, plus Washington, D.C.
As Mic's Jared Keller noted, the Supreme Court decision in early October effectively made same-sex marriage legal in a majority of states. Now, that recognition extends to the federal government. We may not be all the way there just yet, but the era of same-sex marriage bans seems to finally be coming to a close.