Utah County announced on Thursday that it would begin to issue same-sex marriage licenses to eligible couples. The county, home to the conservative city of Provo, held out for nearly a week after a federal judge struck down the state's gay-marriage ban, even as most counties in the state followed the court's decision.
The Utah County clerk issued its first gay marriage licenses Thursday morning, as the state prepares to appeal to the Supreme Court for a stay on U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby's Friday decision.
The stay would stop all gay marriages in Utah until the courts hear the state's appeal of the decision itself. The request for a stay, by the way, will go to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who can choose whether to handle it herself, or to throw it onto the entire panel of justices. Meanwhile, hundreds of gay couples in Utah have already married since Friday.
Provo, perhaps apocryphally, is often called the most conservative city in the nation, based on two national studies. It is, in any case, something of a crystallization of the heavily Mormon state's conservatism. The city is home to the Mormon-run Brigham Young University, and the Mormon church's largest missionary training center. The county went 88 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012, and supported a ban on same-sex marriage by 82 percent in 2004 (a comparably large Utah county, Salt Lake County, approved the measure by a much narrower margin: 54 percent).
Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson has previously said he was waiting for "clarification" on the judge's decision, which took effect immediately. Utah filed three unsuccessful appeals for a stay to federal courts earlier this week. Here was Thompson's statement on Thursday, after the 10th Circuit denied one of those requests:
On Tuesday afternoon, December 24th, the 10th Circuit of Appeals denied the motion to stay the ruling by Judge Robert Shelby that Utah’s same sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. Based upon that motion and upon receipt of the further clarifications I was seeking; the Utah County Clerk’s Office will issue marriage licenses to all eligible applicants.
A few other hold-out counties, including Box Elder County, and San Juan County, also will issue gay marriage licenses starting Thursday, according to Fox News 13's Ben Winslow. That means the only county in Utah not issuing licenses to all eligible couples is Piute County. But that's probably due to one big logistical problem: the tiny county of 1,435 people issues about three marriage licenses a year, and its clerk is currently on vacation. In other words, nobody at all is getting married in Piute County right now.