SALT LAKE CITY – A federal judge ordered Monday that Utah honor the same-sex marriages performed during the 17 days following the initial strike-down of the state’s same-sex marriage ban.
In a ruling Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball told Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to “immediately recognize the marriages by the same-sex couples entered pursuant to Utah marriage licenses issued and solemized between Dec. 20, 2013 and Jan. 6, 2014, and afford these same-sex marriages all the protections, benefits and responsibilities given to all marriages under Utah law.”
The marriages were performed following District Court Judge Robert Shelby’s striking down Amendment 3, Utah’s same-marriage ban, as unconstitutional.
A stay on Judge Robert’s ruling was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 6, which put a halt to same-sex marriages pending the outcome of Utah’s appeal to the original ruling. The stay allowed Amendment 3 to be reinstated as state law, which doesn’t allow the state to recognize any form of marriage outside of one man and one woman.
Because of the state law, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the state could not recognize the over 1,200 same-sex marriages already conducted across the state. This left those married same-sex couples in a state of “legal limbo,” Reyes said.
That limbo has caused benefits afforded heterosexual married couples to be denied to married same-sex couples, as the state has yet to recognize their unions. With the exception of joint-tax filings, other services, including adoptions, have been out of reach for same-sex couples married in the state. Pending the outcome of an appeal of Kimball’s ruling, these benefits will be made available.
While over 1,200 same-sex marriages have been report by media, Equality Utah estimates those numbers to be over 1,300 within the state.
“We are currently reviewing the decision issued today by U.S. District Court Judge Dale Kimball,” said Marty Carpenter, Gov. Hebert’s director of communications. “The ruling was issued with a 21-day stay to allow the state to determine how to proceed and we are evaluating the options and how this decision may relate to the status of other pending same-sex marriage cases.”
The Utah Attorney General’s Office also responded to the ruling with the following statement:
The Attorney General’s Office has not made an immediate determination about whether it will appeal Judge Kimball’s ruling. According to the Court, this decision directly relates to the same-sex marriages that took place within the 17-day window and not the ultimate legal questions in Kitchen vs. Herbert. We are currently assessing the legal impact of today’s decision and will respond within the 21-day allotted time period.
Equality Utah praised the ruling on its Facebook page, stating:
Congratulations to all of the loving, married couples in Utah. Today is truly a day of celebration! Today a federal judge ruled on the side of love by recognizing the 1,300 committed couples who were married in the 17 day window.
In contrast, the conservative-leaning Sutherland Institute said the following in a statement on its website:
Today’s decision is disappointing because it rewards judicial overreaching. There’s nothing in the United States Constitution that allows courts to mandate same-sex marriage on the states, but one judge was able to do just that by issuing a novel ruling and then forcing the state to put it into effect before the court of appeals could correct any legal errors in that decision. Our system is weaker when judicial gamesmanship is not kept in check. We trust the 10th Circuit will do that quickly.
Kimball’s ruling has a 21-day stay attached to it, allowing the state time to appeal the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments for and against Amendment 3 on April 10. A ruling on the appeal could be produced within two-to-six months after hearing the arguments and reviewing a horde of papers filed in association with the case. Whatever the outcome of the appeal, Reyes has said he will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
Ed. note: This story has been updated with statements from the Utah Governor’s Office and the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
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