Utah Same-Sex Marriages Deemed Legal By Federal Govt

    January 10, 2014

On December 20, Federal District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby shocked the world (or at least Utah) when he ruled that Utah’s state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, and thus opened the floodgates for same-sex couples to file for marriage.

The mad rush to the county clerk’s office only lasted approximately 2.5 weeks, however, as the Supreme Court put a hold on Shelby’s decision on January 6 following requests from the state of Utah for an appeal of the ruling. Two days after the Supreme Court ordered a stay on the ruling, the governor of Utah announced that the state would not recognize the marriage rights of those couples who had yet to complete the required paperwork for marriage or those who had failed to yet hold an actual marriage ceremony.

“Based on counsel from the Attorney General’s Office regarding the Supreme Court decision, state recognition of same-sex marital status is ON HOLD until further notice. Please understand this position is not intended to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages – that is for the courts to decide. The intent of this communication is to direct state agency compliance with current laws that prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages,” stated an email sent out to county officials by the governor’s Chief of Staff, Derek Miller.

Today, the Justice Department of the United States chose to also weigh in on the matter, stating that for the purposes of recognition under federal law, the same-sex marriages performed in Utah since December 20 and before the Supreme Court stay would be recognized as valid:

“Recently, an administrative step by the court has cast doubt on same-sex marriages that have been performed in the state of Utah. And the governor has announced that the state will not recognize these marriages pending additional court action. In the meantime, I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Attorney General Eric Holder stated in a public address earlier today.

Holder stated that the cause of the announcement of federal recognition was important because “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.” In the meantime, Holder added that, “… we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled – regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages. And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”

Despite federal recognition of the marriages, conservatives in Utah are not willing to let the issue die easily. On Wednesday, a rally was held at a Golden Corral in Orem, Utah, in which people voiced their opinions about why same-sex marriages should not be allowed in Utah. The rally was led by State Representative LaVar Christensen, the man responsible for writing the state law defining marriage as something only between a man and a woman: “This is a sacred issue. It is absolutely constitutional for people to have a moral and religious basis for public policy, along with other social and historical justifications.”

Christensen’s opinion is backed by a large portion of Utah’s population, mainly due to the fact that Utah is known as one of the more conservative states in the US due to its deep Mormon underpinnings.

The argument for same-sex marriage rights in Utah holds much more weight than simply being able to say one is married. Recognition of these marriages by the federal government allows those who were married during the 2.5 week window to accrue certain federal benefits, such as the ability to file jointly on federal taxes, eligibility for Social Security claims if one’s spouse dies, and even the ability to place one’s spouse on one’s health insurance.

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