Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday that the federal government would recognize the marriages of same-sex couples in six additional states - Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming - bringing the total number of states in which same-sex marriages are federally recognized to 32, plus the District of Columbia.
The announcement means that gay couples married in those states can now qualify for a variety of federal benefits, including Social Security and veterans' benefits. Holder made a similar announcement last week with respect to seven other states.
"With each new state where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, our nation moves closer to achieving of full equality for all Americans," the attorney general 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."
The announcement comes after the Supreme Court decided earlier this month to decline to hear any cases involving same-sex marriage, allowing lower court rulings in favor of marriage equality to stand. The decision effectively cleared the way for same-sex marriages in eleven states.
In addition, Holder announced on Saturday that the Justice Department has determined it can recognize marriages performed in Indiana and Wisconsin this past June. Those marriages were performed after federal district courts struck down the states' bans on same-sex marriage, but the status of those marriages was thrown into confusion when officials in those states quickly asked the courts to stay their decision pending an appeal. With Holder's announcement on Saturday, the federal government acknowledged that it would recognize any same-sex marriages performed in those states after the bans were struck down.
It's been a heady few years for proponents of same-sex marriage. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage at the federal level in exclusively heterosexual terms. And though the Supreme Court's decision to not hear any same-sex marriage cases disappointed some advocates who hoped the justices would seize the opportunity to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, others viewed the relatively quiet extension of marriage rights as a victory.
In a CBS News poll released earlier this year, 56 percent of Americans spoke in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. In the spring of 2012, that number was only 42 percent.