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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Utah:

Part 7
2014-JAN: Supreme Court issues stay (Cont'd).
State of Utah refuses benefits to married
same-sex couples. Some reactions to the stay
by LGBT groups.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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2014-JAN-06: U.S. Supreme Court issues its own stay (Cont'd):

The stay order reads simply:

The application for stay presented to Justice Sotomayor and by her referred to the Court is granted. The permanent injunction issued by the United States District Court for the District of Utah, case No. 2:13-cv-217, on December 20, 2013, is stayed pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit." 1

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2014-JAN-06/07: Utah government refuses benefits to same-sex married couples:

Approximately 1,300 same-sex couples had obtained marriage licenses and had married between the time of the District Court's ruling on 2013-DEC-20 (which legalized SSM) and the Supreme Court's stay of 2014-JAN-06 (which put the District Court's ruling on hold.) More than 1,300 licenses were issued, but not all couples were able to get married by the time that the stay was imposed.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement praising the Supreme Court’s order as the "correct decision:" He clearly regards the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution upon which the District Court's ruling was based, as being less important than the 2004 vote of the public when they amended the state Constitution to ban SSM. He said:

"Clearly, the stay should have been granted with the original District Court decision in order to have avoided the uncertainty created by this unprecedented change. As I have said all along, all Utahns deserve to have this issue resolved through a fair and complete judicial process. I firmly believe this is a state-rights issue, and I will work to defend the position of the people of Utah and our State Constitution. 2

The new Utah Attorney General, Sean Reyes, said that:

"Pursuing the legal process to get a final answer from the highest court benefits all citizens of Utah. 2

He also said that his office is:

"... carefully evaluating the legal status of the marriages that were performed since the District Court's decision and will not rush to a decision that impacts Utah citizens so personally." 3

Reyes issued a statement saying:

"There is not clear legal precedence for this particular situation. This is the uncertainty that we were trying to avoid by asking the District Court for a stay immediately after its decision. It is very unfortunate that so many Utah citizens have been put into this legal limbo." 4

However, very shortly later, on JAN-07, Derek Miller, Governor Herbert's chief of staff wrote a letter to all Utah Cabinet Ministers:

"Dear Cabinet,

I'm sure you are all aware of the issuance of the stay regarding same-sex marriage in Utah from the United States Supreme Court yesterday. This stay effectively puts a hold on the decision of the district court, which found state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in Utah to be unconstitutional.

After the district court decision was issued on Friday, December 20th, some same-sex couples availed themselves of the opportunity to marry and to the status granted by the state to married persons. This office sent an email to each of you soon after the district court decision, directing compliance.

With the district court injunction now stayed, the original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts. It is important to understand that those laws include not only a prohibition of performing same-sex marriages but also recognizing same-sex 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. Please understand this position is not intended to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages -– that is for the courts to decide. The intent of this communication is to direct state agency compliance with current laws that prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Wherever individuals are in the process of availing themselves of state services related to same-sex marital status, that process is on hold and will stay exactly in that position until a final court decision is issued. For example, if a same-sex married couple previously changed their names on new drivers licenses, those licenses should not be revoked. If a same-sex couple seeks to change their names on drivers licenses now, the law does not allow the state agency to recognize the marriage therefore the new drivers licenses cannot be issued.

We appreciate your patience and diligence in this matter. We recognize that different state agencies have specific questions and circumstances that will need to be worked through. Please do so with the Assistant Attorney General assigned to your respective agency in coordination with the Governor’s General Counsel. We also recognize that these changes affect real people’s lives. Let us carefully and considerately ensure that we, and our employees throughout the state, continue to treat all people with respect and understanding as we assist them." 5

Many of the approximately 1,300 same-sex couples who were married in Utah before the stay would probably prefer to do without this form of government "assistance" which, in essence, has forcibly divorced them -- for the time being -- against their will. This decision by the Utah Government restores these couples to their earlier status: being recognized by the government only as "legal strangers" -- as simple roommates without any recognition of their relationship, and without protections for themselves and their children which are only offered in Utah to opposite-sex married couples.

In response to this letter:

  • Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, (NCLR) said:

    "There is no reason for the state to destabilize these families. These couples are legally married, the state has been providing them with marital rights and protections, and it should continue to do so. There is no need for this kind of case-by-case review, and putting married couples and their families through this process is humiliating and will subject them to needless uncertainty and legal vulnerability." 6

  • Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal said that he believes:

    "... couples who married prior to the stay remain married. They validly married pursuant to the law at the time they married, given that a court order allowed them to marry. ... [Yet] there is no court order preventing what the AG is suggesting be done. Any couple whose marriage is denied recognition by the state would have a claim that refusing to honor their marriage violates their constitutional rights, however, and I believe it would be a strong claim, given the vested property rights and reliance interest that couples who lawfully marry in a state have that their marriage will be respected. Accordingly, if the state does refuse to honor their marriage, it may be facing additional litigation." 6

  • Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign said that Attorney General Reyes’ action:

    "... harms hundreds of Utah families and denies them the respect and basic protections that they deserve as legally married couples." 6

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Order in pending case," U.S. Supreme Court, 2014-JAN-14, at:
  2. Brooke Adams & Lindsay Whitehurst, "Supreme Court halts Utah gay marriages pending appeal," Salt Lake Tribune, 2014-JAN-07, at:
  3. David G. Savage, "The Supreme Court stays a judge's order allowing gay weddings in Utah, suggesting justices are not ready to make same-sex marriage a national right," 2014-JAN-06, at:
  4. Robert Barnes, "Supreme Court halts same-sex marriages in Utah pending appeal," Washington Post, 2014-JAN-06, at:
  5. "Governor's Office gives direction to state agencies on same-sex marriages," Governor Herbert's web site, 2014-JAN-08, at:
  6. "Utah AG: Same-sex marriages don't count," Rainbow Times, 2014-JAN-09, at:

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Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > SSM > SSM sub menu > Utah > here

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-JAN-06
Latest update: 2014-APR-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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