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Same-sex couples claim Utah attorney general wrongly intervening in adoption cases

Published: Friday, Feb. 28 2014 5:25 p.m. MST

Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. Several married same-sex parents say the Utah Attorney General's Office is unjustly intervening in their adoption cases. (Ravell Call, Deseret News, KSL-TV Chopper 5) Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. Several married same-sex parents say the Utah Attorney General's Office is unjustly intervening in their adoption cases. (Ravell Call, Deseret News, KSL-TV Chopper 5)

SALT LAKE CITY — Cindy Sanders didn't bring her 18-month-old son to a Capitol news conference Friday where she and other married same-sex parents said the state is unjustly intervening in their adoption cases.

But the Utah Attorney General's Office says it didn't seek to get involved but responded to judges' requests for an opinion on the legality of same-sex adoption in light of the Amendment 3 case.

Kaizen, the biological child of Sanders' wife, was home taking a nap.

"In my life, he's the most important thing, so he's sleeping while I fight for him," she said.

Sanders filed a court petition to adopt Kaizen, but attorneys for the state intervened, saying her marriage isn't valid in Utah and asking the judge to put the adoption on hold. The state also says Sanders could voluntarily dismiss the case.

The attorney general's office contends that when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a federal court decision that allowed same-sex marriage in Utah for 17 days, the state's law banning gay marriage was immediately in force. The law also prohibits same-sex adoptions.

The memorandum also says the couples could file new petitions if Utah's gay marriage case is decided in their favor.

But attorney Laura Milliken Gray said that could take two or three years, and the families don't want to wait any longer.

"There was no need for the state to do this," Gray said, adding it could just let the cases proceed. "It's particularly egregious to us that the state has gone out of its way and inserted itself into these highly private, highly personal cases."

Sanders, a senior development manager at Adobe, said she's the primary wage earner in her family, and Kaizen won't be entitled to her Social Security or retirement benefits if something were to happen to her.

"So love me or hate me, do what you will based off my decision, but the reality is my son is here. He's viable part of our community. He's a beautiful boy," she said.

Gray said she intends to file a response to the attorney general's office for the same-sex couples she represents.

Meantime, the attorney general's office filed a motion in federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by four same-sex couples to have their marriages recognized.

All four couples were married between Dec. 20 — when Judge Robert Shelby declared Amendment 3, Utah's voter-approved definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, unconstitutional — and when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Shelby's ruling Jan. 6.

Once the stay was issued, a governor's office directive told state officials to put recognition of the marriages on hold. Since that time, the Utah State Tax Commission said same-sex couples who are eligible to file a joint federal income tax return can also file joint state returns in Utah.

The lawsuit argues that the governor's directive has left the same-sex couples who were married in legal limbo and unable to access "critical protections for themselves and their children."

State attorneys contend in the court filing the couples don't have a claim that their rights were violated because the Supreme Court stay returned Utah to its law banning same-sex marriage. The law prohibits the state from recognizing any other civil union beyond an opposite-sex marriage.

"The only thing 'clear and certain' in this case is that plaintiffs’ marriage licenses were issued, contrary to Utah law, but pursuant to a federal judicial injunction, which has been stayed and is on appeal," the state wrote.

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