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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 23 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 21
Showdown: Federal judge orders Utah to recognize marriages
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Showdown: Federal judge orders Utah to recognize marriages

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In a move that could set up a showdown between federal and Utah state courts, U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball ordered Utah state officials on May 19 to recognize more than 1,000 same-sex marriages.

The marriages were legally performed between December 20, when Federal District Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down the state ban on same-sex marriages, and January 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Shelby's ruling pending a hearing by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the federal government will recognize the Utah marriages, but Utah state officials have refused to do so. In fact, the Utah Supreme Court ruled on May 16 that the marriages were not valid, at least as far as adoption rights go.

Kimball is now the second federal judge to rule on marriages in Utah. He was nominated to the federal bench by Bill Clinton.

In his ruling, Kimball wrote that 'The State has placed Plaintiffs and their families in a state of legal limbo with respect to adoptions, child care and custody, medical decisions, employment and health benefits, future tax implications, inheritance, and many other property and fundamental rights associated with marriage. These legal uncertainties and lost rights cause harm each day that the marriage is not recognized.'

The lawsuit by couples seeking recognition of their marriages is separate from the original federal case challenging Utah's marriage ban, which is now on appeal before the Tenth Circuit.

While Kimball's injunction is not a permanent order, it reflects his finding that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their legal claims and would suffer irreparable harm if the state refused to recognize their marriages.

In his ruling, the judge gave Utah officials a 21-day stay to allow them to prepare a response.

'Our clients, like over 1,000 other same-sex couples, were legally married and those marriages cannot now be taken away from them,' said John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah. 'While we await a permanent decision, we are relieved that our clients will receive the full recognition they deserve as lawfully married couples.'

'We are grateful that the court has stepped in to prevent the state from stripping recognition from legally valid marriages that have already taken place,' said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. 'The court's decision allows these committed couples to move forward with their lives with the same protections and security as any other married couples.'

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