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Utah asks federal judge to let state court determine marriage benefits for gays

Monday, April 28, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Attorney General’s Office is asking a federal court to allow the Utah Supreme Court to decide whether same-sex couples who married in the state should receive legal benefits associated with marriage.

The Scott M. Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City, home of the Utah Supreme Court.

The Scott M. Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City, home of the Utah Supreme Court.

State attorney’s filed the request in federal court on Friday, asking that the state’s highest court resolve the question of whether same-sex couples who wed after U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex unions in December have “vested property rights” under Utah law, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

The plaintiffs in the case are four same-sex couples who were legally married in Utah after a federal court struck down the state ban, but before the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted marriages from taking place while the state challenged the decision.

The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Utah, challenges Utah’s decision to place recognition of those marriages on hold indefinitely. The case was originally filed in a Utah state court, but later moved to the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

The plaintiffs have also asked the Utah Supreme Court to weigh in — though the question they posed was much broader: Are same-sex couples who were legally married in those 17 days before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay covered by the same rights and benefits that opposite-sex couples receive when they are married in Utah?

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Utah attorney general Sean Reyes contends that the question addresses a state statute, and should therefore be ruled on by the state’s top judicial authority, not the federal court.

Last month, state attorneys argued that it was justified in freezing benefits for more than 1,000 newly married gay and lesbian couples because their rights are not permanently vested until an appeal court rules on the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

On January 10, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Utah marriages would be recognized by the federal government for purposes of federal benefits.

Follow this case: Evans v. Utah.

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