Federal judge orders Utah to recognize same-sex marriages

Posted at 3:29 PM, May 19, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-20 12:52:13-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge has ordered the state of Utah to recognize more than 1,200 same-sex marriages that were performed during a 17-day window when such unions were allowed.

In a decision issued Monday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ordered Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes  to "immediately recognize the marriages by the same-sex couples entered pursuant to Utah marriage licenses issued and solemnized between Dec. 20, 2013 and Jan. 6, 2014, and afford these same-sex marriages all the protections, benefits and responsibilities given to all marriages under Utah law."

After U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby declared Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, Amendment 3, unconstitutional on Dec. 20, 2013, more than 1,200 same-sex couples wed in Utah until the U.S. Supreme Court halted it pending an appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Here's a breakdown of the marriages under a public records analysis done by FOX 13:

Same-sex marriage estimates in Utah

In his ruling, Kimball said that even though the U.S. Supreme Court's stay "put Utah’s marriage bans back in place, to retroactively apply the bans to existing marriages, the State must demonstrate some state interest in divesting Plaintiffs of their already vested marriage rights."

"The State has failed to do so," Kimball wrote.

The lawsuit was originally filed by the ACLU against Utah on behalf of four legally married same-sex couples, who argued the state violated their due process rights by denying them the same benefits as their straight counterparts.

Utah argued that because the U.S. Supreme Court granted the stay, Amendment 3 was back on the books and it could not recognize the marriages county clerks performed.

"It's so exciting!" Elenor Heyborne, a plaintiff in the ACLU's lawsuit said of the ruling.

"It feels just validating to have, again, our relationship recognized in a way that is so meaningful and important to us," Heyborne's wife, Marina Gomberg, added in an interview with FOX 13.

Judge Kimball gave the state 21 days to file an emergency appeal to the 10th Circuit Court. The federal appeals court is already considering the state's appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby's ruling, which declared Amendment 3 unconstitutional and allowed for same-sex marriage in Utah.

In a statement to FOX 13, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes did not indicate if he would appeal the decision:

"The Attorney General's Office has not made an immediate determination about whether it will appeal Judge Kimball's ruling. According to the Court, this decision directly relates to the same-sex marriages that took place within the 17-day window and not the ultimate legal questions in Kitchen vs. Herbert. We are currently assessing the legal impact of today's decision and will respond within the 21-day allotted time period."

Late Monday, attorneys were huddling in Governor Gary Herbert's office to discuss the impact of the ruling. The governor's office issued this statement:

"We are currently reviewing the decision issued today by U.S. District Court Judge Dale Kimball. The ruling was issued with a 21-day Stay to allow the state to determine how to proceed and we are evaluating the options and how this decision may relate to the status of other pending same-sex marriage cases."

Read the ruling here:

Bill Duncan, the director of the Center for Family and Society,  with the conservative think-tank Sutherland Institute, released a statement:

"Today's decision is disappointing because it rewards judicial overreaching.

There's nothing in the United States Constitution that allows courts to mandate same-sex marriage on the states but one judge was able to do just that by issuing a novel ruling and then forcing the state to put it into effect before the court of appeals could correct any legal errors in that decision. Our system is weaker when judicial gamesmanship is not kept in check. We trust the 10th Circuit will do that quickly."

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who married his husband, Stephen Justesen, the day Amendment 3 was overturned, issued a statement calling on the state not to appeal:

"As the only member of the Utah Senate whose spouse is refused state health care benefits, resulting from Governor Herbert's order putting all legal, same sex Utah marriages 'on hold', I applaud Judge Kimball's decision. And I urge the Governor to respect the rule of law and withdraw his 'hold' on the dozens of Utah state employees affected as well as the hundreds of other married Utah couple.

I request Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to stop spending millions of Utah tax dollars on wasteful, message lawsuits designed to degrade and hurt LGBT families all across Utah. Whatever your moral, religious or philosophical ideas about gay people, Mr Attorney General, I ask you to join many of your national GOP colleagues and recognize the inevitability of fairness and equality for all our citizens. History is watching Mr Reyes."

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