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Utah Won’t Grant Gay Marriage Benefits During Appeal

Utah's attorney general said marital benefits won't be granted to same-sex couples married after the state's ban was overturned if they didn't seek them in the 2 1/2 weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court put that order on hold.

“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 Supreme Court halted gay weddings in Utah on Jan. 6, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said in an e-mailed statement. The policy doesn’t affect benefits obtained before the high court ruled.

The weddings will remain on hold while the state appeals a Salt Lake City federal judge’s ruling that the U.S. Constitution guarantees marriage rights to same-sex couples. More than 1,000 couples have sought marriage licenses in Salt Lake County alone, according to Sherrie Swensen, the county’s clerk, since U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled Dec. 20 that the state’s voter-approved ban violates the Constitution.

Reyes’s position means Utah won’t recognize any “new action” taken by same-sex couples who married from Dec. 20 to Jan. 6, Ryan Bruckman, a spokesman for Reyes, said in an e-mail. Before the Supreme Court’s decision, for example, a same-sex couple would have been granted a request for a name change and new drivers’ licenses with that name, while such requests will be denied after the Jan. 6 ruling, according to Bruckman.

Utah sought Supreme Court intervention after Shelby and the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver, which is now hearing the case, let the marriages go forward. The Supreme Court didn’t rule on the merits of the case.

ACLU Lawyer

John Mejia, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Utah, said in an e-mailed statement that the organization sent a letter to Reyes today explaining why the more than 1,000 marriages of same sex couples performed in Utah are valid and enforceable and must be recognized by the state and federal governments.

“When these couples married, they immediately obtained all of the same protections and obligations enjoyed by all of the other married couples in Utah,” Mejia said in the statement. “Because these rights were vested when they were married, they are protected by the due process guarantees of the Utah and United States Constitutions.”

Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have now legalized gay marriage.

California Case

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that allowed it. The court also reinstated a federal judge’s order allowing gay marriages in California, ruling that opponents of gay marriage didn’t have legal standing to defend a voter-approved ban on same-sex weddings.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, last month named Reyes to serve as the state’s attorney general through 2014, replacing John Swallow, who resigned in November.

Shelby was appointed in 2011 by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and was confirmed in 2012.

The lower court case is Kitchen v. Herbert, 13-cv-00217, U.S. District Court, District of Utah (Salt Lake City).

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