Utah Recognition of 1,000 Gay Marriages Halted by Court

Utah for now doesn’t have to recognize the marriages of more than 1,000 same-sex couples who wed during a 17-day period in December and January, as the U.S. Supreme Court put a lower court order on hold.

The nation’s highest court, which six months ago halted same-sex weddings in Utah, today blocked a trial judge’s order requiring recognition of marriages that took place while they were legal.

The two-sentence order, which came without published dissent, at least temporarily leaves those Utah couples without the adoption, hospital visitation and insurance rights possessed by other married people. It applies until a Denver-based federal appeals court rules on the status of the marriages.

That appeals court ruled in June that same-sex couples in Utah have a constitutional right to get married, and today the same panel struck down Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban. Utah has said it will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Separately, the Colorado Supreme Court today ordered Denver’s county clerk to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The city began providing licenses after a state judge ruled Colorado’s ban to be unconstitutional, though the judge had put the ruling on hold.

In Utah, Governor Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes argued that the state shouldn’t have to recognize what they called “interim marriages” until the legal fight runs its course.

Adoption Case

“The democratically produced decisions of Utah’s citizens should not be overturned based on the discretion of a single federal district judge unchecked by subsequent appellate review,” the two Republicans argued in papers filed with the Supreme Court.

In January, state officials said they would put the 1,000-plus marriages “on hold” and block any new marital benefits. Four couples then sued, including two men seeking to finalize an adoption proceeding by amending their son’s birth certificate.

Lawyers for the suing group argued that Utah officials were seeking “to effectively divorce those couples against their wishes by placing their marriages on hold.”

The couples’ lawyer, Joshua Block of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement after today’s high court action that he was “deeply disappointed.”

Same Protections

“We are confident that when the appellate process is completed we will prevail and these lawfully married same-sex couples will once again be given the same legal protections as every other legally married Utah couple,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Utah’s ban on gay marriage in December and then refused to block his ruling during the appeal. Same-sex couples immediately began applying for -- and receiving -- marriage licenses until the Supreme Court intervened Jan. 6.

The case acted on today is Herbert v. Evans, 14A65.

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