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. Dave

    Why should I care who marries who? I really don't care and neither should the government of any state or the country as a whole. Marriage is a personal decision not a political one.

    January 8, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  2. Bob

    Couldn't agree more, Ricke1949.

    January 8, 2014 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  3. Lisa P.


    If gay/same-marriage can be legalized why cannot polygamy be legalized?
    January 8, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm
    It probably should. At least that way *all* the wives (or husbands - why not polyandry too?) would have some legal protections. Sneaking around just opens the door to exploitation.

    January 8, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  4. Lexxs

    Finally a state that makes some wise decisions. It would be great if this became the wave of the future

    January 8, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  5. IpseCogita

    Thè validity of a marriage, only the legal status of the contract. Marriage is a relationship between people, not something that is only valid if the sate approves.

    January 8, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  6. Smartdoctor

    Any "law" invented by fiat from an activist judge can be reversed by fiat from a different activist judge. Which is why if gay marriage is to become "law", it MUST come from legislated law, signed by a governor. Sorry it's taking this long for liberals to figure out that simple fact.

    January 8, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  7. burnt fur

    People that think the rights or opportunities or whatever you want to call it to avoid your sidetracking the discussion should be subject to popular vote and that it is the proper way to handle this disagreement clearly don't understand the bill of rights. Not allowing gay people to marry is making laws that favor certain religious beliefs over other people's religious beliefs. Twisting everything around to deny gay people to marry fails eventually, as Utah should CLEARLY have seen from the results of the prop 8 hearings. You can make up whatever you want to postpone the inevitable, but eventually the checks and balances will take effect and reverse this stay, and these marriages will again be valid. It's only a matter of time before marriage equality comes to EVERY state.

    January 8, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  8. bspurloc

    the mormons are boiling... religion is a disease we need a cure greater than cancer

    January 8, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  9. Tweety bird

    Come on gay community. Launch a class action lawsuit for Federal Civil Rights infringement. Demand billions!!

    January 8, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  10. MSW

    They've got to keep up this ridiculous fight up to keep the cash flowing for lawyers and judges. Anyone with even a little common sense sees that gays will achieve equal rights nationally soon. Fighting to keep legal discrimination against gay folks is futile over the long term.

    January 8, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  11. Jim

    How many people in the world 7 billion. How many gays 100 million, 200 million. So the other 6.8 billion are wrong, mis-lead, stupid. I think not End of story.

    January 8, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  12. Sean

    How much you want to bet they won't refund the license fees?

    January 8, 2014 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  13. Lima

    Get government out of the marriage business.,

    January 8, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  14. Leaf

    YES! Way to go, Utah! Finally, someone stands up to the left wing radicals and the radical supporters.

    January 8, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  15. Ha Ha

    This is just great news! It's about time the courts recognize the will of the people! Justice is severed, Ha Ha!!!

    January 8, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  16. Chris

    It's more than ironic that an attorney general who wants to keep a ban on marriages is suddenly concerned about "putting people in legal limbo." There simply is no argument against marriage equality that isn't rooted in a religious disapproval of said relationships.

    January 8, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  17. ghostonefour

    Even if the judges said "Its legal"... would that make the marriages any less "invalid"??? I don't think so. Adultery is legal... is it valid?

    January 8, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    Love will always outshine hate.

    January 8, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  19. darknesscrown

    Conservatives REALLY hate gays. Obviously. If it wasn't for the Civil Rights Act, which the South thinks is unnecessary and discriminatory against them, black people would still be drinking at different water fountains and getting late night visits from the KKK at every election season...although, I'm sure that still happens regularly anyway. Why can't conservatives just give it a rest...they lost.

    January 8, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  20. RBS

    While they're at it they should un-recognize all the interracial marriages too! Right? Isn't that a sin? I mean if we're discriminating we may as well go all the way... Can women still vote in UT? Probably should work on repealing that too. Go UTAH!

    (p.s. this post is a sarcastic comment on the fact that THIS IS BLATANT DISCRIMINATION, btw)

    January 8, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  21. DMR

    The problem for Utah is that is not what the Court Order stated. The order placed an injunction on further same gender marriages, until there is an appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals, nothing more. There is nothing that requires the Federal Court of Appeals to hear the case and even if they do there are a number of ways they may decide to hear this case. It is entirely possible the Federal Court of Appeals will side with the District Court.

    The problem for Utah and several other states trying to fight same gender marriage is that the issuing of a Marriage License is a civil function of a secular government. Not all churches object to same gender marriage. To inject religious beliefs into the argument will likely not be taken well by the Federal Courts as there is a very clear separation of church and state. Remember not all churches object to same gender marriages and to prohibit same gender marriage based on religion would be a government endorsement of one religion over another. which is clearly prohibited. The other arguments tried in the various cases against same gender marriage tend to promote myth rather than verifiable empirical fact. I have no problem with churches refusing to perform same gender marriages, but they should have no say about the issuing of a Marriage License which is a civil function of a secular government.

    January 8, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  22. Rich Brown

    Hey liberals: You do know that it's still legal for you to have a person stand in front of you and say "I now pronounce you husband and husband," right? Nothing takes away that right of free speech from you.

    Ahhh but that's not the issue, is it? Because that doesn't give you the tax benefits.....which means it really is not about love, but about money. Right?

    January 8, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  23. tom l

    Incredible bigotry from the left here. Just read the hateful comments.

    January 8, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  24. prussian11

    So when before the people it was voted down by a 2-1 vote. That's not particularly close. The legislature runs it through anyway ... but th ecourts are the problem? Sounds like the people didn't want it by an influential majority.

    But the great thing about this country is, if you don't like the laws of a State, you can move to one that aligns more with your personal desires. It is legal elsewhere ... pack a bag.

    January 8, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  25. jim slim

    All those taxes benefits from end of year fro couples ... knackered

    January 8, 2014 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
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