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Married same-sex couples in Utah in ‘legal limbo’ after Supreme Court stay

Monday, January 6, 2014
Francisco Kjolseth, The Salt Lake Tribune (AP)Heather, left, and Jax Collins of West Jordan join hundreds of other same-sex couples descending on county clerk offices around the state of Utah last month to request marriage licenses.

Francisco Kjolseth, The Salt Lake Tribune (AP)
Heather, left, and Jax Collins of West Jordan join hundreds of other same-sex couples descending on county clerk offices around the state of Utah last month to request marriage licenses.

SALT LAKE CITY — Married same-sex couples in Utah were thrust into legal limbo Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court put a halt to same-sex marriages in the state, turning jubilation to doubt just weeks after a judge’s ruling sent people rushing to get married.

The justices did not rule on the merits of the case or on same-sex marriage bans in general, leaving both sides confident they’ll ultimately win. The decision stays in effect while the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the long-term question of whether gay couples have a right to wed in Utah.

For those couples who just got married – or were planning their nuptials – the latest twist in the legal battle clouds what was seen as a cause for celebration.

“It feels like we are second-class citizens during the stay,” said Moudi Sbeity, who is waiting to get married until the legal process plays out. “There’s also the fear of the unknown of what might come next.”

Sbeity and partner Derek Kitchen are one of the three couples who brought the Utah lawsuit that led to the surprise Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, who said the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violated gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights.

State officials praised Monday’s decision to put a hold on things, saying it should have come earlier to avoid uncertainty. Two previous courts turned down their request for a stay.

“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,” Gov. Gary Herbert said.

The Supreme Court’s unsigned order did not indicate anyone dissented from the decision to halt same-sex marriages in Utah. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from Utah and the five other states in the 10th Circuit, turned the matter over to the entire court.

Many believe the Supreme Court will eventually settle the issue for good. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he believes the court’s decision indicates an interest in Utah’s case, and he hopes the justices someday issue a final answer.

Others doubt the high court will step in any time soon. In June, the justices passed on weighing on the constitutionality of defining marriage as being between a man and woman, relying instead on a technical legal argument to resolve the California case and clear the way for same-sex marriage in the state, which resumed at the end of June.

Douglas NeJaime, a professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, said the court’s decision to halt gay marriages doesn’t necessarily give any indication of how the justices would rule on the issue, and he believes justices want the issue to work its way through normal legal channels before they weigh in.

Meanwhile, the state is trying to determine whether the marriages that have already taken place are still valid.

“This is precisely the uncertainty we were hoping to avoid by requesting the stay,” Reyes said. “It’s unfortunate that many Utah citizens have been put into this legal limbo.”

Marriage licenses issued in 2008 in California prior to the passage of the state’s same-sex marriage ban were eventually upheld by the state supreme court, but marriages done in San Francisco in 2004 were invalidated.

“Neither situation is completely analogous,” NeJaime said.

That leads NeJaime to believe a court will need to rule on Utah’s marriages. If the Utah attorney general challenges the validity of the licenses as expected, that might lead to several months of limbo for the couples, he said.

For 17 days, Utah was the 18th state to allow gay couples to wed.

More than a thousand couples flocked to county clerks offices, marrying on courthouse steps in darkness and celebrating a judge’s decision that the 2004 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in the state was unconstitutional. The state appealed to the 10th Circuit, which also refused to halt marriages in the meantime.

It was a surprising development in a state where nearly two-thirds of the 2.8 million residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons dominate the state’s legal and political circles. The Mormon church was one of the leading forces behind California’s short-lived ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8.

Though the church has softened its stance toward gays and lesbians in recent years, it still teaches that homosexual activity is a sin and stands by its support for “traditional marriage.”

Church officials say they hope a higher court validates its belief that marriage is between a man and woman.

Shelby’s ruling overturning the state’s ban was the first by a federal judge to overturn a state marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions on same-sex marriage in June.

The justices at that time struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prevented legally married gay and lesbian couples from receiving a range of tax, health, pension and other federal benefits.

On the same day, the court left in place a trial court’s decision that struck down California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The action now shifts to Denver, where the appeals court will consider arguments from the state against same-sex marriage as well as from the three gay and lesbian couples who challenged the ban in support of Shelby’s ruling.

The 10th Circuit has set short deadlines for both sides to file their written arguments, with the state’s first brief due on January 27. No date for argument has been set yet.

James Magleby, a lawyer for couples who sued to overturn the ban, said that while the halt to same-sex marriages is temporary – assuming the appeals court does not reverse Shelby’s ruling – it is disappointing because it leaves Utah families waiting to marry until the appeal is over.

“Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being ha rmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally,” Magleby said in a statement that also proclaimed confidence in his side’s case before the appellate judges.

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50 more reader comments:

  1. better in limbo for a while then in the hell they were condemned to with no marriage rights!

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:47pm
  2. utter bullshite

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:48pm
  3. Nuts!

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:49pm
  4. so wrong

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:52pm
  5. lol i love that picture. one is all dressed up and the other is like meh, ill wear this hoodie. its so accurate.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:53pm
  6. Plus she is wearing heavy hiking boots while the guy next to her is wearing open-toe flip flops. :D You could tell their sexual orientation without their respective bride and groom next to them. :P

    Replied on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 7:31am
  7. Pissing me off

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:53pm
  8. Well, the fact that this has made it to the Supreme Court is a win. They won’t be able to pass the puck like they did with California’s Prop 8 when they declined to rule over a technicality. They’re going to have to face the issue head-on this time.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:53pm
  9. Utah it here folks

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:54pm
  10. :(

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:56pm
  11. Utah give it up. They deserve to be happy too!

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:57pm
  12. Just like a church to fund hate and bigotry. Extend equal rights nationwide now!!

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:02pm
  13. Really? All because of one man in Utah who refuses to eat. UNBELIEVABLE. But if us gay folks did that apparently we will starve. What is the freaking deal about 2 men or 2 women geting maried?

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:02pm
  14. That has nothing to do with it.

    Replied on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:16pm
  15. This happened in CA, too. 18,000 2nd class citizens.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:03pm
  16. Hatred has a 2 million dollar price tag.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:04pm
  17. There is nothing wrong on that case for me..everybody deserves to be happy as long as they are not hurting other people..so be it!!!

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:04pm
  18. Once again religious people can’t stand the fact that other people don’t believe in their book of fairy tales and are living a happy life with out it. So of course they have to go and try to make everyone live according to their beliefs. It pisses me off what right they to make everyone live they way they think is right.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:05pm
  19. Live in Utah married in WA in May, I am clueless about where my marriage stands in all of this.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:09pm
  20. If where you live doesn't legally recognize gay marriage, then inside that state your marriage rights don't legally exist.

    Replied on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 11:11pm
  21. I don’t think you all realize how SCOTUS works. This is setting the trap for the opportunity for any one of the over 900+ couples to take the State of Utah before the Supreme Court in a national case. A stay is not an “end-all” and often leads to broader equality.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:19pm
  22. Every individual affected, their family and friends and business partners should all be suing the state for harassment; infringement and utter and complete incompetence.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:21pm
  23. Pretty cowardly decision in my opinion.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:26pm
  24. This is demeaning and discriminatory.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:31pm
  25. stay strong everyone!

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:33pm
  26. So what if one of us gays says we won’t eat until we can all get married?

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:51pm
  27. ridiculous to put them on hold when the US Constitution allows it.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 10:04pm
  28. They are not hurting anyone so just let them get married and happy

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 10:14pm
  29. I’m so happy I am canadian! We don’t have to put up with the government saying who people can marry. Who cares live love laugh. I don’t see gays ruining what they call marriage now a days why can that stupid kardashian girl get married get paid to show her so called wedding and then divorce right away if anything she is the reason marriage is ruined!

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 10:32pm
  30. Despicable that the Lives of the majority take away the Rights of the Few… ‘We the People’ should mean ALL the people enjoying Equality in ALL its forms including same sex marriage !!! UTAH where hypocrisy Rules ! ;o(

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 10:35pm
  31. Stop hetero divorce

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 10:38pm
  32. Tax the Mormon cult!

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 10:39pm
  33. Why is religion in charge of a state? Make the moron church pay taxes.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 10:39pm
  34. This is what happens when the right wing swill is the majority on the Supreme Court.

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 10:42pm
  35. No, those couples are and will remain married

    Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 11:51pm
  36. WTF???

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 12:32am
  37. Wasn’t it ruled legal at one point? Did the forget what the bible said about justice?
    Guess they forgot this part of the bible:
    “And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. 10 Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. 11 According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. 12 The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13 And all the people shall hear and fear and not act presumptuously again.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 12:32am
  38. Utah is going to kick and scream all the way to the Supreme Court. Let’s be prepared to take them on. Time to fight back.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 1:16am
  39. Hang on in there guys & gals! We’ve been waiting almost two thousand years… don’t give up now!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 1:34am
  40. Utah, stop being a selfish diaper baby!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 2:51am
  41. The bible says its totally fine to have slaves

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 3:03am
  42. Its all a play on people’s feelings just to dangle that carrot so they make money off them just to hurt them

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 3:25am
  43. No worries folks, we will definitely fight this of the marriages are overturned! NO EQUAL RIGHTS = NO TAXES!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 3:47am
  44. I wish more people thought along these lines, why should we pay taxes if we aren’t equal?!?!?

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 3:48am
  45. Good luck on your marriages and may The Lord be with you.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 5:40am
  46. Sad.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 5:43am
  47. God bless this decision, I pray Marriage equality comes to Utah, Amen.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 6:29am
  48. The U.S. Supreme Court should make GAY MARRIAGE LEGAL IN ALL 50 U.S. States, and get it over with…

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 7:56am
  49. There should be no legal limbo people need to just let people love. Life is about loving someone and you can’t control who you fall in love with whether its the same sex or opposite color / race we are all human we bleed the same die the same. Why not be allowed to marry the same way marry someone you love. One day either my daughter moves to a state that will allow her to marry the love of her life or Florida will become next to approve same sex marriage. Either way she will be happy when the time is right, right now I am just a mom worrying about her crazy fun young adult life. That is another story a everyday mothers vent.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 11:47am
  50. Only reason this is an issue is because some people just have to take away other’s rights to feel better about themselves.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 3:08pm