The potential for lawsuits has led Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to join nine other states in a call for the California Supreme Court to delay implementing its ruling that allows same-sex couples to marry.
"Our concern is the potential for massive amounts of litigation if this goes into effect so quickly," said Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office.
For now, the California ruling is set to be implemented June 17, but the attorneys general want to freeze it until after the November general election. That is when voters are likely to decide whether to amend the California Constitution to ban gay marriage.
Without the delay, the states would face "premature, unnecessary, unnecessarily difficult," lawsuits to determine whether to recognize California marriages of same-sex couples, Shurtleff wrote on behalf of the attorneys general in a friend-of-the-court brief filed late Thursday.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown, whose office originally argued to uphold the state's one man-one woman marriage laws, submitted his own brief urging the Supreme Court not to grant the stay, the Associate Press reported.
"The court has declared the law governing the right of same-sex couples to marry, and the attorney general undertakes to give effect to that declaration with no less vigor than he previously sought to give effect to the statutes in dispute," Brown's brief states. "It is time for these proceedings to end."
Unlike Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, California has no residency requirement, which makes it more likely that couples from other states will wed there, Shurtleff said in the brief.
"We reasonably believe an inevitable result of such 'marriage tourism' will be a steep increase in litigation of the recognition issue in our courts," Shurtleff wrote in the brief. "Out of our commitment to the principals of 'our federalism,' we would simply shoulder that burden without comment if it were not for the prospect that in a little more than five months the legal meaning of marriage in California may return to 'the union of a man and a woman.'"
In Utah, voters have already approved a constitutional amendment barring recognition of same-sex marriage and other domestic unions. Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, who led the campaign against the amendment, doubts there will be a "crippling flood of lawsuits" from same-sex couples who tied the knot in California.
"Quite frankly, it's nonsense," McCoy said. "I really don't think the decision is going to cause some tidal wave of lawsuits in Utah courts that are going to overwhelm the Attorney General's Office."
However, Bill Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation, which supports traditional marriage, doubts litigation would lead to the demise of Utah's marriage amendment. However, he said the letter poses a legitimate concern, especially for states with no clear marriage recognition policy.
"A few months from now the issue could easily be mooted by a vote of California voters," he said. "There's no reason to raise this possibility of litigation."The other states involved are Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina and South Dakota.