The Human Rights Campaign has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to take immediate action to ensure rights of more than 1,300 gay and lesbian couples who received marriage licenses in Utah are upheld.
In a letter delivered to Holder Thursday, the civil rights organization said there is no “legal reason to question the validity” of marriages that occurred between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a federal judge’s ruling overturning Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The letter pointed out Utah Gov. Gary Herbert initially directed state agencies to recognize the marriages.
“Even though the governor’s office has now made a political decision to cut off this recognition, it continues to insist that it makes no pronouncement about the validity of these unions,” wrote Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). “There is simply no reason for the United States government not to extend federal recognition to these more than 1,300 couples.”
HRC also sent a letter to attorneys general in 17 states where same-sex marriage is legal, calling on them to recognize the Utah marriages.
“I urge you to issue an advisory opinion declaring that treating all legally-conferred marriages consistently as a matter of equal protection and basic justice is consistent with the public policy of your state,” Griffin said in that letter.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice said it is reviewing Herbert’s decision to not recognize any marriages that occurred during the 17 days between U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby’s order and the Supreme Court stay.
That fact that HRC is “going on the record asking the administration to recognize these marriages puts the credibility of our organization behind it,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the advocacy organization. “The attorney general has been very fair, as has his administration, in recognizing legal gay marriages. We are hoping he will take our opinion into account as they decide which way to opine on this.”
On Wednesday, Utah state officials announced that recognition of same-sex marriages that occurred before the stay would be “on hold” until a final court decision on its appeal of Shelby’s ruling, a process that could take more than a year. The state said any rights same-sex couples pursued after being married are now frozen at whatever step they had reached.
Within hours of the announcement, the ACLU of Utah said it was seeking plaintiffs for a potential lawsuit. On Thursday, the ACLU said it had received an “overwhelming” response to that request.
“We have a great pool, and we are working through that and plan to bring litigation that will protect all marriages, whether the couples are named plaintiffs or not,” the ACLU said in a tweet.