Washington (AFP) - The US government announced Friday it would recognize same-sex marriages in seven additional states, after the Supreme Court declined to take up the debate.
A total of 26 of the 50 US states, and the capital Washington, now legally recognize gay and lesbian marriages, giving them the same legal rights and federal benefits as married heterosexual couples.
"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," US Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video message.
"With their long-awaited unions, we are slowly drawing closer to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans nationwide."
The seven states affected by the Justice Department decision are Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Holder said he had directed Justice Department lawyers to work with officials across the various government agencies to "ensure that all applicable federal benefits are extended to those couples as soon as possible."
Last week, the US Supreme Court snubbed appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin where state-level bans on gay marriage had been deemed unconstitutional.
Marriages in those five states had been on hold pending the court's decision on whether to hear the cases. The ruling means that same-sex couples in the five states can now have their unions recognized.
The number of states legalizing gay unions is expected to grow.