Utah is instructing state officials to put services and paperwork for same-sex couples on hold, reflecting a recent U.S. Supreme Court order that halted gay marriages in the state. Utah is appealing a district court's ruling last month that its ban on same-sex marriage is not constitutional. The state was granted a stay as it pursues the matter.
In a memo sent to Gov. Gary Herbert's Cabinet Wednesday, state agencies were instructed to put any work related to the marital status of same-sex couples "on hold." The memo adds that those processes "will stay exactly in that position until a final court decision is issued."
The move clouds the legal status of hundreds of same-sex couples who were granted marriage licenses and other documents after Utah's ban was overturned on Dec. 20. And it comes along with an admission from the state's attorney general that his office is unsure of the validity of those marriages, which were held before the Supreme Court issued an emergency stay halting them.
"We are 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," Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said in a statement released today. He said the matter is now for higher courts to decide.
Today's development does not please newlyweds such as Michael Ferguson, a shop owner who had been looking at joint insurance coverage and tax returns before those plans were put on ice.
"It was this realization of like, 'Wow, Gov. Herbert really hates our families so much that he will spend any amount of money to break apart our families,' " Ferguson tells The Salt Lake City Tribune.
Laying out its position, the governor's chief of staff, Derek Miller, said today, "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."
Today's memo drew a response from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which wrote a letter to Reyes in which it told him that "attempting to retroactively strip these newly married couples of their rights by refusing to recognize their marriages would put the state in conflict with the couples' due process rights."
The state's ACLU chapter estimates that about 1,000 same-sex couples got married in Utah after its ban was thrown out.
The memo from the governor's office to state agencies included an example in which a same-sex couple has obtained new drivers' licenses — perhaps to reflect a name change related to the marriage. Those licenses will not be revoked, the governor's office says. But new ones are not to be issued under those circumstances.