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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 04
Utah gets extension on filing appeal as ACLU sues state
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Utah gets extension on filing appeal as ACLU sues state

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The legal situation for same-sex couples in Utah has become even more complex.

The federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Utah's request for an extension on filing papers in the pending marriage case, while the ACLU sued the state on behalf of four Gay and Lesbian couples who married before the U.S. Supreme Court called a temporary halt to same-sex marriages in the state.

In a January 21 announcement, Tenth Circuit clerk Elisabeth Shumaker said the court would extend the deadline for the state's filing by seven days. Instead of January 27, Utah's attorneys now have until February 3 to submit their opening brief.

Other deadlines will be extended 'by a corresponding amount,' Shumaker said, meaning that the response from same-sex couples will be due February 25, and any reply from the state must be filed by March 4.

The Tenth Circuit said when it accepted Utah's appeal that 'requests for extension of time are very strongly discouraged and will be considered only under extraordinary circumstances.'

The state's attorneys asked for a 10-day extension on January 17.

The next day, attorneys for Gay couple Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, and Lesbian couples Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, and Karen Archer and Kate Call filed a motion opposing the state's request. They argued that none of the requisite 'extraordinary circumstances' existed and that the scheduling request was not as important as the 'real and continuing harms' they were experiencing pending the appeal.

Meanwhile, the ACLU, as expected, filed a lawsuit on behalf of four same-sex couples, demanding that Utah recognize their marriages.

The suit filed on January 21 says the state has put hundreds of Gay and Lesbian couples in legal limbo and prevented them from getting key protections for themselves and their children.

'They've put a giant question mark over the lives of all these people that have married,' said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU in Utah.

Utah spokesperson Marty Carpenter responded, noting that Governor Gary Herbert 'has said throughout this process that his responsibility is to follow the law. That is exactly what the administration is doing, and we respect the rights of those who disagree to take their grievances before a judge.'

The plaintiffs in the ACLU suit are among some 1,300 Gay and Lesbian couples who rushed to marry after a federal judge in Utah overturned the state's same-sex marriage ban on December 20.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that the same-sex marriage ban violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Same-sex weddings came to a halt when, on January 6, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Utah an emergency stay - something two lower courts had denied them.

Herbert then issued a directive saying that state agencies should consider same-sex marriage rights 'ON HOLD' until the Tenth Circuit ruled on the state's appeal. The Governor said he was not ordering agencies to void the marriages, just not to afford couples the rights associated with marriage.

Mejia said the ACLU disagrees with Herbert's analysis. Marriages performed during the 17-day window when same-sex marriage was legal are valid no matter what the court rules, he said. Couples have vested rights in their new marriages and should be able to move forward with efforts to make partners legal guardians of children, or add their spouses to their health insurance or pension plans, Mejia added.

National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell said the Utah case may have national legal implications.

'Let's just be disabused of any notion that [the U.S. Supreme Court is] not paying attention,' she told the Salt Lake Tribune. 'If they believe it's inevitable, and that the nation is more or less with them, that is going to be very important in an ultimate victory in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.'

There are now 42 cases around the country similar to the ACLU of Utah lawsuit, Kendell noted.

'I think the Utah case is a very compelling case ... but it would be a total crapshoot to guess whether that's the case they take,' she said, although she added that the high court will have to weigh in definitively on same-sex marriage in the next one to three years.

'It's just untenable [to ignore the issue],' she said.

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