SALT LAKE CITY — Utah intends to appeal a federal judge's ruling that requires the state to recognize the same-sex marriages performed during the brief time it was legal in late December and early January.
Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes filed a notice of appeal Wednesday in U.S. District Court. The case would go to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Judge Dale Kimball issued a decision May 19 requiring the state to recognize and grant all benefits to marriages which were performed before the U.S. Supreme Court stayed another federal judge's ruling that allowed same-sex marriage in Utah.
Kimball also put his order on hold for 21 days to allow the state time decide whether to appeal.
In his decision, Kimball wrote that it is clear under Utah law that legal marriages can't be retroactively invalidated and that the state failed to show it would be harmed if the unions were recognized. Conversely, he said, not recognizing same-sex married couples disrupts their lives on a daily basis.
"The state has placed plaintiffs and their families in a state of legal limbo with respect to adoptions, child care and custody, medical decisions, employment and health benefits, future tax implications, inheritance, and many other property and fundamental rights associated with marriage," Kimball wrote in his 34-page ruling.
"These legal uncertainties and lost rights cause harm each day that the marriage is not recognized."
The preliminary injunction Kimball issued in the case is not a permanent order, but reflects the court’s determination that the plaintiffs are likely to win on their legal claims and would suffer irreparable harm if their marriages were stripped of recognition.
After Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah's same-sex marriage ban on Dec. 20, the state appealed to the 10th Circuit Court and obtained a stay of the ruling from the Supreme Court. About 1,300 couples married before the high court stepped in Jan. 6.
Reyes asserted that the Supreme Court stay means the law reverts back to the way it was before Shelby's ruling. Based on Reyes' advice, the governor's office directed state agencies on Jan. 8 to put recognition of same-sex marriages on hold pending the appeal.
About two weeks later, Donald Johnson and Carl Fritz Shultz, Matthew Barraza and Tony Milner, JoNell Evans and Stacia Ireland, and Elenor Heyborne and Marina Gomberg sued the state to have their marriages recognized. All were married in Utah between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6.
In the lawsuit, the couples asked Kimball to order the state to immediately recognize the marriages.
"In this case, plaintiffs solemnized legally valid marriages under Utah law as it existed at the time of such solemnization. At that time, the state granted plaintiffs all the substantive due process and liberty protections of any other marriage," the judge wrote in the decision.