Appeals court puts temporary hold on same-sex marriage recognition in Utah

Published: Thursday, June 5 2014 12:00 p.m. MDT

Utah asked a federal appeals court Thursday to put a hold on a judge's ruling that requires the state to recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in Utah starting next week.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal appeals court Thursday put a temporary hold on a judge's order requiring Utah to recognize same-sex marriages performed in the state starting next week.

Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes notified the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that it intends to challenge U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball's ruling and asked the court to put it on hold pending resolution of the appeal.

The Denver-based appellate court gave four couples who sued the state until next Thursday to file a motion opposing the state's request. The order essentially extends the 21-day hold — due to expire Monday — Kimball placed on his May 19 ruling. Lawyers will now argue whether the court should maintain the stay throughout the appeals process.

“We appreciate the circuit court granting the stay request and acknowledging the need for more time to allow all parties a chance to address such important issues,” Reyes said in a statement.

The state contends its appeal would be moot if Kimball's order to extend marriage benefits to about 1,300 gay and lesbian couples were to stand.

Marriage benefits granted to same-sex couples would be "a lot more difficult to undo" if the 10th Circuit were to ultimately rule in the state's favor, said Joni Jones, litigation director in the Utah Attorney General's Office.

Jones acknowledged that Utah risked not getting a stay by waiting until this week to file its motion.

"But we felt like it was an important enough issue that we looked long and hard at whether we would appeal," she said. "That's why we didn't file the day after the decision came because we wanted to consider whether or not that was the right choice."

The attorney general's office, Jones said, decided it would be inconsistent to not appeal Kimball's ruling after appealing Judge Robert Shelby's decision that upended the state's voter-approved Amendment 3 defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

John Mejia, an ACLU of Utah attorney representing the couples, said waiting until two business days before the deadline "really smacks of a delay tactic."

"If they seek a stay on day 18, that argues against the idea that there's any emergency or that there's any irreparable harm," he said.

Mejia said he was disappointed that the state decided to appeal.

"We think to continue to refuse to recognize valid marriages is very harmful to the families of those married couples," he said. "For the state to continue this marriage limbo is ill-advised and unprecedented."

Kimball was "loud and clear" that couples in those marriages have vested rights, Mejia said.

In his decision, Kimball wrote that under Utah law, 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.

"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 ruling.

"These legal uncertainties and lost rights cause harm each day that the marriage is not recognized."

In its motion, the state argues Kimball did not correctly apply Utah law to his decision. It contends the right for same-sex couples to marry resulted from U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby's "non-final" opinion striking down Utah's gay marriage ban that is now under appeal in the 10th Circuit and could be ruled on soon.

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