SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will not recognize, at least for now, the marriages of couples who rushed to wed after a federal judge’s ruling briefly rendered same-sex unions legal in the conservative, predominantly Mormon state, the governor’s office said Wednesday.
The state’s decision comes as a blow to roughly 1,400 same-sex couples who legally tied the knot after U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled Dec. 20 that a state ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. His ruling was later put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court pending an appeal.
“Based on counsel from the Attorney General’s Office regarding the Supreme Court decision, state recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice,” Gov. Gary Herbert’s chief of staff said in a message posted to state officials on the Web site of the Republican governor.
Utah temporarily became the 18th state to permit gay marriage when Shelby ruled for three same-sex couples in a lawsuit challenging a voter-passed amendment to Utah’s constitution that defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay Monday, pending appeal of the ruling, that prevents same-sex marriages from being performed in Utah. Same-sex couples who were wed after Shelby’s ruling then expressed concern that the state might not recognize their marriages as valid.
Should Utah prevail before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, that court would probably have to decide whether to invalidate the marriages that have occurred over the 18 days since the intitial ruling.
The appeals court has agreed to hear the Utah case on an expedited schedule, with a Feb. 25 deadline for court papers.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which supports the effort to bring gay marriage to the state, expressed disappointment in Utah’s decision not to recognize the weddings performed in recent weeks.
University of Utah law professor Clifford Rosky said the state’s decision could leave gay couples and their families in limbo for months, if not years, by interrupting applications for health insurance or retirement benefits for state employees and halting adoption petitions of some families.
Salt Lake City couple Paul and Tony Butterfield married in California in 2008, but their union was not recognized in Utah, and on Dec. 23 they wed again in that state.
“For the governor to just overturn a court-mandated judgment just blows my mind,” said Paul Butterfield, who is raising 11-year-old twin boys with his partner of 18 years.
Shelby’s ruling jolted many of Utah’s 2.8 million residents, nearly two-thirds of whom are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches that traditional marriage is an institution ordained by God.
The governor’s office, in explaining how the state would handle the existing marriages, said state agencies should follow “current laws that prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.”
So, for example, if a married same-sex couple in Utah had already changed their names on their driver’s licenses, the changes would not be revoked — but such couples would not be able to apply to change their names on state-issued identification.