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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 3 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 01
Sotomayor sets January 3 deadline for briefs on Utah marriages
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Sotomayor sets January 3 deadline for briefs on Utah marriages

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has set Friday, January 3, as the deadline for Utah same-sex couples to respond to a request by the state's Governor to halt Gay and Lesbian marriages there.

On December 31, lawyers representing Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes filed papers asking the Supreme Court to stay the ruling by Federal District Judge Robert Shelby striking the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

The Attorney General's office had previously asked both Judge Shelby and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay, but they were turned down.

Absent a stay, hundreds of Gay and Lesbian couples have been married in Utah since Shelby issued his ruling on December 20. More than 900 couples have gotten marriage licenses.

Utah's application was filed with Justice Sotomayor, who supervises the Tenth Circuit. Once she reviews both the state's filing and the response from same-sex couples, she may decide the issue on her own, or she may ask the other justices to participate in the decision.

According to Utah's filing, the state seeks to halt same-sex marriages pending an appeal hearing by the Tenth Circuit.

'Numerous same-sex marriages are now occurring every day in Utah,' the state complains in the filing. 'Each one is an affront not only to the interests of the state and its citizens in being able to define marriage through ordinary democratic channels, but also to this court's unique role as final arbiter.'

Nearly two-thirds of Utah's 2.8 million residents are Mormons, and the church dominates the state's legal and political circles. The Mormon Church has been a pillar of opposition to marriage equality, and was one of the leading forces behind California's short-lived ban on same-sex marriage, Prop 8.

Utah's lawyers also stressed that states have the authority to define marriage as they please, including limiting it to a relationship between one man and one woman.

'That states have a powerful interest in controlling the definition of marriage within their borders is indisputable,' they said in their filing.

Shelby's original ruling invalidating the ban on same-sex marriage came late on a Friday afternoon and sent couples rushing to the county clerk's office in Salt Lake City - a mere three miles from the Mormon Temple - for marriage licenses.

The following Monday, 353 more Gay and Lesbian couples obtained licenses, some camping out overnight to be in line when the county clerk's office opened Monday morning.

After the Tenth Circuit Court refused to stay the ruling, the few county clerks who had refused to issue licenses changed course. Officials say demand has slowed after an initial run on marriage licenses in the first hours after Shelby's decision.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert has directed state agencies to comply with Shelby's order, meaning Gay and Lesbian couples are eligible for food stamps and welfare, among other benefits. The state Tax Commission said it was looking at changing tax returns to allow same-sex couples to file jointly, although it didn't immediately give assurances that will happen.

None of the rights of already married couples would be at risk even if Sotomayor grants Utah's request for a stay; but couples who have not yet been married would be prevented from doing so, even if they have a marriage license.

When the Tenth Circuit decides Utah's appeal of Shelby's ruling, one of the issues will be the status of the hundreds of same-sex marriages that have already taken place. If the appeals court decides that Shelby was wrong, they could invalidate the marriages, but many legal experts say that courts would be reluctant to undo so many legal marriages.

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