SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has appealed a federal judge’s ruling ordering officials to recognize more than 1,000 gay marriages that were allowed immediately after the state’s same-sex marriage ban was overturned, prolonging the uncertainty for those couples.
In addition to the appeal, filed late Wednesday to the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the state on Thursday asked the appeals court to further delay implementation of the ruling to recognize the marriages until the appeal is heard, court documents show.
The couples married over 17 days in late December and early January, after another federal judge overturned the state’s 2004 gay marriage ban. The marriages stopped when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the ruling, pending an appeal now before the federal appeals court in Denver.
As it stands now, the state must begin granting benefits Monday to those gay couples, on issues such as child custody, medical decisions and inheritance. On May 19, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said Utah’s decision to freeze benefits for gay couples put them in an unacceptable legal limbo, causing them harm each day it goes on.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and state Attorney General Sean Reyes, both Republicans, took 16 of the 21 days they were given by Kimball to mull their appeal.
Herbert worked closely with Reyes in analyzing all options, said his spokesman Marty Carpenter in a statement. “It is important that clarity and finality are provided by the highest courts,” Carpenter said.
Reyes said in a statement Thursday that he recognized the burden on the families stuck in legal limbo, but said the state believes it’s best to wait for higher courts to rule on the ban. He said immediately recognizing the benefits would be “premature.”
John Mejia, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Utah, said the four gay couples who brought the lawsuit are disappointed in what they view as an “ill-advised” decision by the state.
“It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars and resources and it brings unnecessary uncertainty and disruption to the lives of these families,” Mejia said.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in January on behalf of four couples, saying the state’s decision to freeze benefits for gay couples violated their rights. The ACLU believes the marriages are legal and are valid no matter what the Denver-based appeals court rules on the constitutionality of the state’s gay marriage ban.
The appellate panel has heard arguments, and its ruling could come at any time.
Herbert ordered state agencies in January to hold off on any new benefits for the couples until the courts resolve the issue regarding the ban.
Agencies were told not to revoke anything already issued, such as a driver’s license with a new name, but were prohibited from approving any benefits.
The state tax commission announced, however, that newly married gay and lesbian couples can jointly file tax returns for 2013.
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