Wednesday evening, court documents revealed that Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, along with named defendant Governor Gary Herbert, will appeal a recent decision by Judge Dale A. Kimball that requires the state to recognize the approximately 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in December, 2013.
The ruling adds to the suite of lawsuits currently making their way through the judicial branch, stemming from the December Shelby ruling overturned Utah’s Amendment 3, the law banning same-sex couples from getting married.
During the 17 days when same-sex marriage was legal, nearly 1,300 couples rushed to Utah clerks’ offices requesting marriage licences after Judge Robert Shelby declared that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
On January 6, the US Supreme Court granted a temporary stay on the ruling, putting a legal halt to any new licenses being issued. Not long after, state officials announced that they would not recognize the legal marriages that were already performed until a final ruling was announced on their appeal of Shelby’s ruling.
The ACLU of Utah and many of the newlyweds, angry that the state and the Utah Department of Health had halted their petitions to allow their spouses to legally adopt the children they were already raising, sued.
Utah law requires anyone wishing to adopt to be legally married. And the Attorney General’s office argued that since Shelby’s ruling had a temporary stay put on it, Utah did not recognize those couples as married any longer.
On May 19, Judge Kimball ruled in favor of the couples, saying that Utah cannot retroactively deny marriages that were legally performed in the state. However, he did grant a three week window for the state to appeal his ruling before it went into effect.
That deadline is Monday, and Utah is just sneaking under the wire.
On a related note, this past Tuesday Utah Chief Civil Deputy Attorney General Brian Tarbet and Solicitor General Bridget Ronano told a legislative committee that other states with similar laws to Utah’s Amendment 3 have failed to defend such laws in other circuit courts.
“The states ability to regulate marriage isn’t limitless” Romano told the committee. “Since [the Shelby decision] 14 federal courts have overturned same-sex marriage bans either in whole or in part…this question will get to the Supreme Court, the question is when.” Pressed by Representative Brian King, Romano also admitted no state has been able to successfully defend its same-sex marriage ban in court.
Speaking to The Salt Lake Tribune, John Mejia of the ACLU of Utah said, “We had hoped that [the state] would stop on their unprecedented and ill-advised campaign, which we believe is a big waste of taxpayer dollars, to fight recognition of these marriages. It’s really causing a lot of disruption and interruption in the lives of real, married couples and their families.”
Update: In a press release, the Attorney General’s office said “Although the State recognizes the deep burden placed on families who must continue to wait for a final decision regarding their rights and those of their children, any decision by the highest courts that results in undoing what the District Court has granted could be more disruptive than awaiting certainty and finality,” according to Attorney General Sean Reyes.
“It is clear that the District Court understood the complexity and intricacy of the legal issues surrounding its order by allowing twenty-one days for measured consideration of implementation or appeal,” Reyes continued. “We have carefully weighed and researched all options, including the viability of recognizing only those marriages performed during the 17-day window, but cannot ignore the fact that Evans v Utah and Kitchen v Herbert are inseparably intertwined.”
The Attorney General’s office would conclude by stating that the office takes “no pleasure in prolonging the legal process” but felt that recognizing same-sex marriages is premature.