U.S. Supreme Court puts same-sex marriage in Utah on hold

New A.G. says Utah gay couples who recently married are in 'legal limbo'

Published: Monday, Jan. 6 2014 10:10 a.m. MST

Reyes said his office is evaluating the legal status of married gay couples but wouldn't say when or if it would issue an opinon. He did not address whether couples who have marriage licenses may still get married legally.

Utah's 29 counties stopped issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after getting word of the Supreme Court hold. Salt Lake County turned away four couples Monday morning, according to County Clerk Sherrie Swensen.

A Utah marriage license expires 30 days after it's issued, according to state law.

Former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said he believes a couple could still legally get married as long as they do it during the time the license is valid. He also said married same-sex couples are entitled to all the benefits of a lawful marriage.

"We shouldn't be too quick to assess the stay as being an invalidation of Judge Shelby's ruling because it is not. An individual who is married is entitled to very distinct rights in many areas," he said.

The Supreme Court’s action calls into question a Dec. 24 directive from Gov. Gary Herbert’s office telling state agencies to comply with the initial ruling striking down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The Utah State Tax Commission was about to address whether same-sex couples will be able to file the same state income tax returns as other married Utahns or have to continue to file separately with the state as single taxpayers.

While the issue is still expected to be on the agenda for the commission’s meeting Thursday, commission spokesman Charlie Roberts said the agency is “waiting for direction from the A.G.’s office on how to treat the marriages.”

Last year, after the Supreme Court threw out the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the IRS determined legally married same-sex couples would be treated as married for federal tax purposes no matter where they lived.

At that time, Utah tax commissioners decided gay and lesbian couples legally married outside the state would still be considered single when filing state income tax returns.

University of Utah law professor Wayne McCormack said Monday's Supreme Court order surprised him because stays at that level are typically reserved for life-or-death situations such as a pending execution.

Noting 18 states allow same-sex marriage, he said, "Where is the irreparable harm to the state in letting this go forward?"

McCormack and others believe the marriages should remain intact.

“Though future marriages are on hold for now, the state should recognize as valid those marriages that have already been issued, and those couples should continue to be treated as married by the federal government," said John Mejia, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.

But Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, called for gay marriages performed in the state before the stay to be "summarily invalidated."

There is legal precedent in Utah where historically polygamous marriages were ruled invalid and "men with multiple wives were forced to abandon them, take their families and flee out of the country or risk imprisonment," she said.

Lawyers for the state filed an emergency application for a stay last Tuesday, saying that same-sex marriages being performed in Utah are an "affront" to residents' ability to define marriage through the democratic process and to the Supreme Court's role as final arbiter for a profoundly important constitutional question.

The state argued that allowing same-sex marriages causes irreparable harm to Utah's sovereignty and its ability to enforce state law. They also argued the state would incur "administrative and financial costs” in determining “whether and how to unwind" same-sex marriages should it win the case.

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