Utah Sued by Same-Sex Couples Over Status in Legal Limbo

Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Utah, where a court ruling legalizing gay marriage was put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court, was sued by recently married same-sex couples who claim the state stripped their unions of legal recognition.

The case filed today in state court in West Jordan was brought on behalf of couples married in the 2 1/2 weeks between a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages and the Supreme Court’s Jan. 6 order halting further marriages during the appeals process.

In Salt Lake County alone, more than 1,000 couples sought marriage licenses after U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled Dec. 20 that the state’s voter-approved ban violates the U.S. Constitution, according to Sherrie Swensen, the county’s clerk. Three days after the Supreme Court’s order, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said the state won’t “legally recognize” same-sex marriages while the case is on appeal.

“By retroactively stripping plaintiffs’ marriages of legal recognition, the state of Utah has put these couples and their families in legal limbo and prevented legally married same-sex couples from accessing critical protections for themselves and their children,” the couples said in today’s complaint. They are seeking a court order declaring the marriages valid.

Gay marriage is legal in 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Officials in Utah and Oklahoma are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver to overturn rulings that struck down their voter-approved bans on same-sex marriage.

‘Within Hours’

Utah residents Marina Gomberg and Elenor Heyborne went to the Salt Lake County building to get their marriage license “within hours” of learning of Shelby’s ruling, according to today’s complaint. Being legally married lifted the burden of a disadvantaged tax status, lack of guaranteed hospital visitation, and an inability for both women to be legal guardians for their future children, according to the complaint.

“The state’s refusal to continue to recognize their marriage raises again all their concerns and anxiety,” according to the complaint.

Ryan Bruckman, a spokesman for Reyes, declined to comment on the complaint.

The case is Evans v. Utah, 140400673, Third Judicial District, Salt Lake County, West Jordan Department. The federal appeals court case is Kitchen v. Herbert, 13-4178, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (Denver).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net