Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced on January 8 that his state would not recognize more than 1,300 same-sex marriages that took place between December 20 and January 6. After federal judge Robert Shelby held the Constitution ensures marriage equality, more than 1300 gay and lesbian marriages took place in those counties willing to offer licenses until the Supreme Court recently stayed Shelby’s decision.
The governor’s office made the announcement despite Attorney General Sean Reyes being “unable to reach a legal conclusion as to the ultimate validity of marriage between persons of the same sex who completed their marriage ceremony in Utah between Dec 20, 2013 and Jan. 6, 2014.” They announced that their decision would stand as long as the Supreme Court’s stay is in effect. Derek Miller, chief of staff also sent an email to cabinet ministers explaining that the ruling means Utah cannot perform or acknowledge 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,” he wrote.
The marital status of couples who got married during this period is in limbo now. Gay rights activists blasted the government over its decision and said that it has failed to provide couples with basic protections.
“Today's decision harms hundreds of Utah families and denies them the respect and basic protections that they deserve as legally married couples. Governor Herbert has once again planted himself firmly on the side of discrimination by preserving the second-class status he believes gay and lesbian Utahans merit,” said Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign president.
According to Miller, couples who have already had changes made to the state system need not get them reversed. However, going forward, same-sex couples will not be able to make such changes as the state agencies do not recognize their marriages as being legal.
“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,” Miller said.
While the constitution of the United States provides gay couples with “equal protection of the laws”, Utah’s constitution specifies, “Marriage consist only of the legal union between a man and a woman.” This discrepancy has led to the current situation for gay couples in Utah and lawmakers in the state have made it more than evident that they will fight offering equal rights to gay couples until the end.
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