Utah will not recognize same-sex marriages performed before high court stay
January 8th, 2014
01:17 PM ET
8 years ago

Utah will not recognize same-sex marriages performed before high court stay

(CNN) – Utah will not recognize the hundreds of same-sex marriages that were temporarily allowed by a federal judge's ruling but before the Supreme Court issued an injunction, the state announced Wednesday.

Officials say more than a thousand marriage licenses between gay and lesbian couples were issued in the 17 days between the initial ruling and the high court's Monday order blocking enforcement.

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"Based on counsel from the Attorney General's Office regarding the Supreme Court decision, state recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice," said the governor's Chief of Staff Derek Miller in a letter to cabinet officials.

"Please understand this position is not intended to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages– that is for the courts to decide. The intent of this communication is to direct state agency compliance with current laws that prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages."

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby concluded on December 20 the decision that a state law banning same-sex marriage, approved in 2004, conflicted with the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. That prompted many counties to begin issuing marriages licenses, but the state then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The justices' two-sentence order blocks enforcement until the constitutional questions are fully resolved. A federal appeals court could hold oral arguments as soon as March. A ruling there could affect all states within the court's jurisdiction: Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

But in the meantime, that left the tricky, unresolved question about the status of those who received marriage licenses after Shelby's ruling.

"The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts," said the letter from the governor's office. "It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages."

State officials had sharply criticized Shelby's ruling, and his order same-sex marriages be allowed to take place immediately, saying it created legal confusion.

"This is the uncertainty that we were trying to avoid by asking the [federal] District Court for a stay immediately after its decision. It is very unfortunate that so many Utah citizens have been put into this legal limbo," said the state's attorney general Sean Reyes earlier this week.

More recently, same-sex marriage legal battles have become prominent in states where it is prohibited.

But the Utah case is a broad challenge that goes to the heart of constitutional law as it applies to the state ban and could wind up back at the Supreme Court. Same-sex couples say laws like Utah's violate their equal protection and due process rights.

"It could be the challenge that a lot of people have been waiting for, which is does the United States Constitution guarantee a right to marriage for everyone," said CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

"That's the issue in this case and it's now working its way through the courts. It could take quite some time."

The Supreme Court ruled more narrowly this past summer on separate issues involving same-sex marriage.

It cleared the way for those unions in California to resume and rejected parts of a federal law, concluding same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits.

Most states still ban the practice, but polls show more support for it publicly.

The case is Herbert v. Kitchen.

Filed under: Same-sex marriage • Utah
soundoff (205 Responses)
  1. Sarcastro

    Thank God.

    The idea of two consenting adults being married is, um, totally reasonable now that I think about it.

    January 8, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  2. malcolmtbm

    stupid move...

    January 8, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  3. Rich Black

    I love Gay people!!!

    January 8, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  4. orangesunshyne

    I want my money back!

    January 8, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  5. ac

    UTAH of all places for traditional marriage ??????? funny indeed.

    January 8, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  6. ialsoagree


    When I think traditional marriage, I don't think Utah. I think selling my daughter to the richest family willing to buy her.

    THAT'S traditional marriage.

    January 8, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  7. Gless

    Why can't we do this in California?.. maybe we can now.

    January 8, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  8. HunkieDorie

    Get your facts straight (no pun intended), but plural marriage was outlawed in Utah back in 1890.
    Polygamy is against the law.
    As for the gay marriage thing........they should not be allowed to marry. Just my opinion.

    January 8, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  9. Nick

    "Hello, I am a man and would like to marry this man."
    "You're a sinner!"
    "Oh, ok. Nevermind, I would like to marry these three women."
    "Oh, come right in!"

    January 8, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  10. Name Jeff

    Go Utah...we love you!

    January 8, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  11. Figures

    Saw this coming from a mile away. Interesting times ahead, Utah to thank.

    January 8, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  12. John

    what exactly does the "stay" mean "until further notice" ??

    January 8, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  13. TomNPitt

    If they had a marriage ceremony, I would have to think they are married in the eyes of God!
    Just not in the eyes of the Polygamy State of Utah. Does the state give them their money back for the Licenses they say aren't any good any more??

    January 8, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  14. Friend

    Misleading. The statement says that state recognition is on hold, but the blog author claims that the state has said that it WILL NOT recognize the marriages.

    January 8, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  15. avd

    "Now get back to your day to day lives and multiple wives."

    Wow. Original. Haven't heard that one before. Do you feel stronger now?

    January 8, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  16. rwhite

    Boo Hoo. They are better off. Having their assets become joint assets when the separation happens (and the odds are that a separation is more likely than unlikely) makes for a financial pain.

    January 8, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  17. Chris

    Only traditional marriages are allowed in Utah, i.e. 1 man and 5 woman

    January 8, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  18. adibese

    Religion destroys everything.

    January 8, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  19. Don

    Cute comment about the multiple wives. Are you a bigot? Why can't you just live and let live – if they really love each other? It's really their business – sounds like you're a bit polygaphobic.

    January 8, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  20. blank

    Born and raised in Utah and so sad for this state. Not everyone in this state is so closed minded, the stay is a travesty of justice.

    January 8, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  21. Tim

    Wow, the government in utah thinks it's above the judicial branch now?

    January 8, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  22. informedcivicproject

    So they keep the fees these couples paid, but don't recognize the marriages?

    January 8, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  23. John

    @Danny, Gay Marriage is an oxymoron and has NOTHING to do with equal rights. In all cases in the United States when the People of a State have actually VOTED FOR AGAINST this proposition, the People have voted AGAINST.

    This is a complete misuse of the Judiciary System to MAKE LAW.

    January 8, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  24. Jay

    If they are going to push Utah to accept so called gay marriages, then the same people should also fight the government to legalize polygamy there...Who are we to interfere with their lives if they are happy with it?

    January 8, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  25. REFUND

    If this is the stand they want to take they need to immediately issue a refund for the license fee.

    On another note, I find it humorous that a state that once allowed plural marriage (as a territory of Mexico and then the U.S.) is holding itself out as the defender of traditional matrimony.

    January 8, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
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