State won’t recognize same-sex marriages

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah will not recognize more than a thousand same-sex marriages performed within the state, pending an appeal of its constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes issued a legal opinion to the governor, saying he was unable to reach a conclusion about the validity of the marriages. However, the state will not recognize the marriages, either.

"I want to be clear that we are not saying those marriages are invalid," Reyes said in an interview Wednesday with FOX 13. "However, as a state we cannot recognize those marriages."

Reyes insisted that by refusing to recognize the marriages, the state was not effectively invalidating the unions by pointing to other states that recognize same-sex marriages.

"It's not invalidating it in the same way that if they went to Hawaii, they could potentially apply for benefits there based on the marriage that took place. They can't be recognized (here)," he said. "There is a very fine distinction, but a very important distinction based on those two things."

In an email sent to state cabinet members, Governor Gary Herbert's office declared state recognition of same-sex marital status "on hold" until further notice.

Governor's chief-of-staff Derek Miller acknowledged Utah basically would not recognize the estimated 1,360 same-sex marriages performed in the state when it came to offering state services and benefits.

"The challenge that we're faced with is that although there were marriages that were performed under the color of law based on Judge Shelby's decision, now that the Supreme Court has put a stay on that decision, the laws that existed before Judge Shelby's decision are now back in effect," Miller told FOX 13. "And that law says specifically the state shall not recognize a same-sex marriage."

On Dec. 20, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby declared the constitutional amendment -- which defines marriage as between a a man and a woman -- unconstitutional and violating same-sex couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday issued a stay, halting further marriages until the issue is settled by the appeals court. The governor's office says that means Amendment 3 is back in effect, thus forcing the state to not recognize the unions.

Because of the "on hold" nature of the legal opinion, the state would recognize name changes in driver licenses or joint tax returns that had been filed between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6. However, anything else will not be recognized.

Chris Caras, the director of Utah's Driver License Division told FOX 13 they did grant name changes to couples who sought them. It was under the direction of Governor Herbert, who ordered state agencies to offer services after Amendment 3 was overturned by Judge Shelby.

"There was a period of time between the court rulings when we were accepting them," Caras said. "As we were advised at that time. As of last night, we were advised to return to our original policy."

In a statement to FOX 13, Peggy Tomsic, an attorney representing the three gay couples who sued over Amendment 3, called the governor's decision "unprecedented."

"This unprecedented and disappointing action harms not only my clients, but hundreds of other same-sex couples who also were legally married, and whose families have been needlessly destabilized and stripped of basic legal protection," she wrote.

"By taking this unwarranted action, the State of Utah has discounted the lives of thousands of Utah citizens who live, work, and raise their families in Utah and pay Utah and federal taxes like all other Utah citizens. Regardless of how the State believes the Tenth Circuit will ultimately rule, these couples are legally married, and the State should treat them accordingly."

In her statement, Tomsic told same-sex couples married in Utah to contact a lawyer with questions about their legal status.

ACLU of Utah Legal Director John Mejia told FOX 13 they were "very seriously considering" a lawsuit against the state for refusing to recognize the marriages. Late Wednesday, the ACLU asked for people who felt they had been harmed by the state's decision to contact them to become plaintiffs in the case.

Asked about the threat of litigation, Miller blamed the courts for not issuing a stay in the first place.

"This is the very chaos the state sought to avoid," he told FOX 13.

Michael Ferguson and Seth Anderson, the first same-sex couple to be married in Utah, called the state's decision "frustrating."

"This is part of why it's so frustrating being a second-class citizen in your own state," said Ferguson.

Here is Miller's email to Utah state agencies:

Dear Cabinet,
    I'm sure you are all aware of the issuance of the stay regarding same-sex marriage in Utah from the United States Supreme Court yesterday. This stay effectively puts a hold on the decision of the district court, which found state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in Utah to be unconstitutional.  
    After the district court decision was issued on Friday, December 20th, some same-sex couples availed themselves of the opportunity to marry and to the status granted by the state to married persons. This office sent an email to each of you soon after the district court decision, directing compliance.
    With the district court injunction now stayed, the original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts. It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex marriages.  
    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. 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.

    Wherever individuals are in the process of availing themselves of state services related to same-sex marital status, that process is on hold and will stay exactly in that position until a final court decision is issued. For example, if a same-sex married couple previously changed their names on new drivers licenses, those licenses should not be revoked. If a same-sex couple seeks to change their names on drivers licenses now, the law does not allow the state agency to recognize the marriage therefore the new drivers licenses cannot be issued.
    We appreciate your patience and diligence in this matter. We recognize that different state agencies have specific questions and circumstances that will need to be worked through. Please do so with the Assistant Attorney General assigned to your respective agency in coordination with the Governor’s General Counsel. We also recognize that these changes affect real people’s lives. Let us carefully and considerately ensure that we, and our employees throughout the state, continue to treat all people with respect and understanding as we assist them.

    Derek B. Miller
    Chief of Staff
    Governor's Office
    State of Utah


  • Kent D. Madsen

    Here comes the litigation, spending all that money over equality rights. The schools, homeless, roads and hungry suffer as well. And tax money from gblt workers pays in part for it. Sad, but only temporary set back.

  • Antigay

    Thank you for standing up for what you believe in Utah… the majority has spoken and hopefully SCOTUS will agree….

    • Alex

      A 66% vote in favor of amendment 3 is far from a majority. And this was back in 2004. Bet ya $2 million your “majority” is even smaller now.

  • Jack

    More like “Thanks for blowing $2,000,000” on a losing cause. Oh, the majority of Utah feels much differently now than they did in 2004.

  • Jack

    Maybe Governor Herbert just wants this issue to be decided by the SCOTUS so that all remaining state bans can be struck down and marriage equality will be nationwide?

    • Eric Anderson

      It’s got nothing to do with what he wants, personally. It has to do with the stated “wants” of a majority of Utahns, together with a back-and-forth series of Federal court decisions.

      It’s not the governor’s job to set at naught the will of the People, OR to ignore court rulings.

      Why are people so ignorant of their own government’s workings? They think government exists to satisfy their every personal whim.

      • Skyler Harrison

        The stated wants of the people back in 2004???? I’m sure if we had to vote on this again, the majority of people would favor the gays. Just saying. And putting a vote to decide who can marry who is just plain idiotic and pathetic if you ask me. Too much religious bias in this state.

      • Jason

        Either way, it’s irrelevant. You can’t vote away peoples’ US Constitutional guaranteed civil liberties.

  • Eric Anderson

    What’s the matter with you people? Utah began “marrying” them because a Federal court said so. Utah has stopped because a higher Federal court said so.

    We’re just doing as we’re told. It’s called “the rule of law.” You may have heard of it.

  • Christopher Beebe

    For shame, Gov. Herbert, spending all that money to uphold Amendment 3, when it could be put to better use, such as improved education, better roads, cleaner air, helping the poor, needy, and starving, etc.

  • Jack

    Very simply, Amendment 3 is unconstitutional. No matter how much of our tax money Gov Herbert throws at it, no matter what the majority of Utahns want, it is still unconstitutional. Gov Herbert chose to continue wasting money on this losing battle. And the majority of Utahns aren’t behind him. It isn’t 2004 anymore.

  • James Phillips

    Keep record of all those that are fighting this and when it comes to the next election, vote them out. What a waste of time and money. The tide is turning, Utahns want equal rights for ALL people, not just a chosen few. Remember to get out and vote!

  • Clive

    Why is it so threatening to the “holier than thou” in this State to have equality for everyone? We are talking about love, respect and support of each other. We are people just like you with parents, siblings, children friends, coworkers who love and respect us. Why the fear and hate and abuse from those who profess to be Children of God? We are so much more like you than different. I know that in the next few years everyone will have the same rights. People will look back on these days and their actions with either shame or pride. How will you explain yourself to your grandchildren? Remember how the blacks were discriminated for having the “Mark of Cain”? Look how that turned out. Think and act for yourself. Talk one on one with God. I doubt he will approve of today’s bullying. I love you. Please behave so I can also respect you. Be on the right side of history!

  • Pro Family

    It was one single person who caused this “Legal Limbo” issue, not the Governor and the 66% who voted for Utah’s Constitutional Amendment 3. So if you are wanting to blame someone for this issue, point your finger to Judge Robert Shelby.

    Last summer the Supreme Court ruled that it is up to each state, not the Federal Government, to define Marriage, and Utah did that almost a decade ago – that Marriage is a union of one man, and one woman. That is the “Rule of Law” in Utah, and Judge Robert Shelby does not have the authority to overrule the Supreme Court decision that the issue is up to the individual states.

    • Jack

      The SCOTUS never ruled that it was up to the state. They dismissed the Prop 8 case. They found DOMA unconstitutional which was each states defense to keep the ban. Now the individual states don’t have DOMA to depend on to justify their unconstitutional state bans. If you’re really “pro family”, you’d know that LGBT people have families too.

    • alaneckert

      It’s not Judge Shelby’s fault. It’s the State Attorney’s fault for not including a request for a stay in his legal briefings. That’s year 1 training for law students. Since they didn’t ask for a stay, it wasn’t automatically granted. The request for granting a stay then had to meet stricter standards that Judge Shelby and the 10th Circuit had to follow, and both levels found that the state’s case didn’t meet the standards. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, can do just about whatever it wants. In fact, we don’t even know their reasoning for granting the stay, and trying to read those tea leaves is a fruitless effort.

  • Patrice Schooley Powell

    ALL unions in the state should be done at the courthouse as they are civil unions. If they then want to be ‘married’, which a religious ceremony, it would be up to a church to marry them. But I honestly wish you would stop showing the kissing. The national news doesn’t show this. Why do you have to?

  • Jack

    Supreme court never ruled it’s up to the state to define marriage. They avoided the issue by dismissing the prop 8 case on the grounds that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority, or standing, to defend the law in federal courts after the state refused to appeal its loss at trial. Judge Shelby made his ruling based on the US Constitution as it is now and now the states can no longer use DOMA as a defense since that was ruled unconstitutional. Chances are high that when this case makes it to the Supreme Court that this will put the Supreme Court in the position to strike down all state bans since they are all unconstitutional. It’s not about personal feelings and/or prejudice… It’s just as Judge Shelby pointed out that it is unconstitutional. He wasn’t basing that on his personal opinion, the decision was based on black and white in the constitution. And keep in mind, he was recommended by conservatives. Funny how they all start bashing him when he makes a judgement based on the law that they don’t like.

    So careful what you wish for, because when this case is over and done with marriage equality could become legalized nationwide. Governor Herbert is going to regret spending all this money on exactly what he did not want. Do his lawyers even study law?

  • Jack

    George Carlin once said they banned organized religion, most of our problems would go away. I believe that statement more and more every day.

  • Mobius 1

    I’m getting awfully tired of bible-thumpers always throwing in their 2 cents on this. Nobody cares about what your imaginary friend thinks about real life issues. I am so glad to see that atheism is on the rise and Christianity is on the decline. It’s nice to see that people are finally waking up and resisting the brainwashing from a fictional book and are accepting fact, science, logic and reason. I find it sad that people waste their lives trying to live up to the expectations of a god that doesn’t exist. What I find even more sad is that they try to control/restrict the lives of others with this garbage. It’s insane to think that so many people waste brain power worrying about the lives of LGBTstrangers. Get over yourselves. If you want to believe in imaginary friends, fine… But keep it to yourself. Nobody cares about your myths and superstitions from a book of fiction.

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