Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Same-sex marriage became legal in Utah after the U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the state's appeal of a lower court ruling allowing gays and lesbians to marry.
Within hours of the decision, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay on gay marriage in Utah and five other states in its jurisdiction. County clerks in Utah started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and overseeing weddings.
Meantime, Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes acknowledged the cultural and legal shift in Utah and the need to uphold the law.
"This is historical. This is groundbreaking. This of great significance to our culture and to the laws of the land. It's different than what we've had for the last 227 years," the governor said. "We don't know all the questions let alone the answers, but that's going to be part of the process of coming together and working together for the good of the whole."
Herbert's comments came in reaction to the Supreme Court's decision to deny petitions from Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana, Virginia and Wisconsin. Each of those states argued that their cases were the best vehicles for the justices to decide the same-sex marriage question nationwide once and for all.
The court did not state a reason for rejecting the cases. Last month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it might not take on the issue at this point because there was no disagreement among the lower courts.
The 10th Circuit Court lifted the hold it had placed on same-sex marriages in Utah Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas shortly after the high court's denial. The other state in the 10th Circuit, New Mexico, has allowed same-sex marriage since December 2013.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill promptly told Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen that she could issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and couples began showing up at the courthouse. Other counties followed suit.
"We are thrilled with the decision today. We were caught off guard. We weren't expecting a decision so soon from the Supreme Court," said Derek Kitchen, one of six plaintiffs in the case that bears his name.
"We can't wait to plan our wedding," he said as his partner, Moudy Sbeity, stood behind him with his hands on Kitchen's shoulders. "We're going to have big, gay, farmers market wedding."
Herbert and Reyes said at a news conference that the state would abide by the law. The governor advised state agencies in a letter to immediately recognize legally performed same-sex marriages. Reyes advised county clerks to make necessary changes to forms and procedures to accommodate same-sex couples.
Still, Herbert said he was surprised and disappointed that the Supreme Court did not take up the issue. He also reiterated his position that marriage is a state issue.
"While I continue to believe that the states do have the right to define marriage and create laws regarding marriage, ultimately we are a nation of laws, and we here in Utah will uphold the law," the governor said.
Herbert called on Utahns to treat each other with kindness and respect regardless of their personal beliefs about same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court decision appears to have ended the state's appeal in the same-sex marriage recognition case, Evans v. Utah, moot. Reyes' office is reviewing the impact on other cases, but he said he's inclined to believe that many of those issues are moot.
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