Last month a federal judge ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and almost immediately, marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in the state so that they could get married. In the days after the ruling was handed down, hundreds of couples got married. Earlier this week, the US Supreme Court issued a stay on allowing same-sex couples to marry in Utah until the matter could be ruled on by appeal. Today we learn that the governor of Utah has decreed that the same-sex couples that got married in the wake of the initial ruling are NOT married at all. All those hundreds of marriages have now been invalidated and will NOT be recognized as legal by the state. UGH. What a mess.
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. “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.”
This is a horrible blow to the couples who got married in Utah in the wake of the initial ruling. The same sort of thing happened in California after Proposition 8 (banning same-sex marriage in CA) was voted into law. The battle for marriage equality rages on and in this instance, the people of Utah are caught in the crossfire. I still believe wholeheartedly that marriage equality will be enjoyed by all US citizens some day hopefully soon. My heart goes out to the people of Utah today but I honestly believe that marriage equality will be vindicated in that state … and all states.