More Need-to-Know Highlights on the Same-Sex Marriage Fight in Utah

One of the biggest stories in gay marriage at the end of 2013 has hung on to become the biggest story at the start of 2014. You may remember, right before Christmas, Utah unexpectedly became the 18th state to recognize same-sex marriages. When I last left it, Judge Shelby had denied Utah’s request to have the marriages stayed while it appealed his decision. Here are some additional highlights from the events that proceeded:

  • 10th Circuit appeal request denied: After failing to obtain the stay at the district court level, the state of Utah, represented by its Attorney General Sean Reyes, appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in hopes of getting same-sex marriages halted while it mounted its appeal. The appeals court denied the request.  
  • Final appeal to Supreme Court: The state made its final plea to the Supreme Court and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles the courts emergency petitions. The state argued the stay was needed “to minimize the enormous disruption to the state and its citizens of potentially having to ‘unwind’ thousands of same-sex marriages.”
  • Supreme Court halts marriages: Last Monday, the Supreme Court blocked any further marriages in Utah while the state appealed Judge Shelby’s decision.  The decision was short and didn’t give any insight into the mindset of why the court felt the marriages shouldn’t go forward for now. As far as the actual appeal, the briefing schedule concludes late February, with oral arguments to follow.   
  • Legal limbo for married same-sex couples: The Supreme Court’s decision also put those couples who were married in legal limbo as far as whether their marriages would continue to be recognized or if they would lose their rights granted to them by valid marriages. According to the New York Times, some state employees had already applied for health insurance for their same-sex spouse. Others were planning on filing tax returns or add their new spouse to adoption papers.
  • Utah wont’ recognize same-sex marriages already entered into: Utah Governor Gary Herbert said the state would not recognize the marriages of those couples who were married before the Supreme Court halted marriages.“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,“ said the governor’s Chief of Staff Derek Miller in a letter to cabinet officials. Keep in mind that the state’s decision does not nullify the marriages.
  • Federal government WILL recognize marriages already entered into: On Friday, the Justice Department said it would recognize the some 1300 marriages, despite the state not recognizing them. That means these couples can still enjoy federal benefits and protections afforded to all other married couples, including filing joint federal tax returns.

This case is really one to watch (if you weren’t already). The drama that has ensued so far will only become greater once the appeals court rules and, if the loser appeals, the Supreme Court weighs in on the issue. Remember, this case involves a conflict between state and federal law. The conflict boils down to whether states have sovereignty over the issue of same-sex marriages.

While the California prop 8 decided in June of 2013 involved the same topic, that Supreme Court decided that case on a technicality of standing.  The Utah case will likely have to be decided on its merits. Stay tuned.