ACLU to file lawsuit after Utah refuses to recognize same-sex marriages

Posted at 12:21 PM, Jan 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-09 16:54:33-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said it had been “overwhelmed” with people requesting to sign on to a lawsuit challenging the state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed here.

“We have a great pool and we are working through that, and plan to bring litigation that will protect all marriages, whether the couples are named plaintiffs or not,” the ACLU said in a statement posted on its website Thursday.

On Wednesday, Governor Gary Herbert directed state agencies not to recognize the estimated 1,360 same-sex marriages performed in the last few weeks. It was based on a legal opinion provided by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office.

Civil attorneys have predicted the state’s decision to not recognize the marriages could trigger “tremendous amounts” of litigation.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office on Thursday sent a directive to county clerks, telling them to finish the paperwork that came with issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Some county clerks had expressed concern about processing the marriage licenses in light of a stay ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here is the Utah Attorney General’s memo:

The Utah Office of the Attorney General has been asked by certain counties for legal clarification about whether or not to mail or otherwise provide marriage certificates
to persons of the same sex whose marriage ceremonies took place between December 20, 2013 and January 6, 2014, prior to the issuance of the stay by the U.S. Supreme Court.  We offer the following guidance:

Although the State of Utah cannot currently legally recognize marriages other than those between a man and a woman, marriages between persons of the same sex were recognized in the state of Utah between the dates of December 20, 2013 until the
stay on January 6, 2014.  Based on our analysis of Utah law, the marriages were recognized at the time the ceremony was completed.

While the validity of the marriages in question must ultimately be decided by the legal appeals process presently working its way through the courts, the act of completing and providing a marriage certificate for all couples whose marriage was
performed prior to the morning of January 6, 2014, is administrative and consistent with Utah law.  Therefore, it is recommended that county clerks provide marriage certificates to all persons whose marriages were solemnized during this period as an
administrative function and not a legal function.  This would allow, for instance, same-sex couples who solemnized their marriage prior to the stay to have proper documentation in states that recognize same-sex marriage.

The marriage certificates could help legally married same-sex couples seek benefits from the federal government. Utah Attorney General’s spokeswoman Missy Larsen told FOX 13 the office had no position on whether federal benefits should be granted to married same-sex couples in Utah.

Meanwhile, the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking the federal government to recognize those marriages.

“There is no legal reason to question the validity of these more than 1,300 marriages,” HRC President Chad Griffin wrote in the letter. “Each was legally performed by a clerk representing the state of Utah, in accordance with the state’s statutes and constitution.”

A similar letter was sent to the attorneys general of the other 17 states that recognize same-sex marriage.

Read the letter to the U.S. Attorney General here:

Read the letter to the state Attorneys General here: