For now at least, Utah's state government won't recognize the marriages of about 1,000 newly married same-sex couples, the governor's office announced on Wednesday. The couples married during a weeks-long window that temporarily made Utah the 18th state in the nation to recognize marriage equality.
On December 20th, a federal judge decided that the state's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, allowing any eligible couple in the state — gay or straight — to marry, until the Supreme Court issued a stay on that decision on Monday. The stay left gay couples who married between the original ruling and the stay in legal "limbo," according to the state's attorney general. Here's how Utah will handle that limbo, according to a letter from Governor Gary Herbert's chief of staff giving guidance to the state Cabinet (emphasis ours):
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 understand that this is a matter of great public import that impacts lives on a very personal basis. Prior to and since the U.S. Supreme Court stay of the district court’s injunction in Kitchen v. Herbert, our office has been researching the proper legal course to address this uniquely challenging issue without any clear precedent to guide us.
We are unable to reach a legal conclusion as to the ultimate validity of marriage between persons of the same sex who completed their marriage ceremony in Utah between Dec 20, 2013 and Jan. 6, 2014. That question remains unanswered and the answer will depend on the result of the appeal process.
The Office of the Attorney General has advised the Governor in this case and will continue to work with the Governor and the individual agencies as they evaluate the application of specific policies and benefits within their agencies. A review team has been established to advise on a case-by-case basis.
The stay means that Utah’s laws defining marriage, including Amendment 3 are again in effect and the county clerks in all of Utah’s 29 counties, since the entry of the stay on January 6, are unable to issue licenses to marry persons of the same sex.
The State can neither recognize nor confer new marital benefits. While the ultimate validity of such marriages is subject to the decision of a higher court, it is clear that the State is bound by law to limit any benefits attaching after the stay.
We acknowledge that this is a very difficult situation for many. It was the reason our office sought the stay of the district court’s decision immediately. We wanted to avoid the untenable situation in which many of our citizens find themselves. We are diligently seeking certainty for all Utah s through proper and orderly legal process.