Utah Supreme Court halts same-sex adoption cases

Published May 17, 2014 12:59 pm
The ruling is in response to a request by Utah Attorney General's Office.
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The Utah Supreme Court has halted all movement in same-sex adoption until the justices determine whether the adoptions — and by extension the marriages — are legal.

The announcement came late Friday night, in response to the Utah Attorney General's Office emergency request Thursday to halt all adoption orders until the high court can rule on the merit of the case.

The attorney general's request, its second to the Utah's high court, was given renewed urgency earlier this week by a district judge's order that members of that office and other government agencies appear on June 16 and explain why they were not following orders to fulfill the adoptions. Had Attorney General Sean Reyes appeared, he would have had to answer to the judge, who could have held him and others in contempt of court, which could result in jail time, a fine or both.

The high court's stay presumably puts that June 16 hearing on hold as well, according to an attorney general's office news release.

"The stay will remain in effect until the issue has been fully briefed by the parties and resolved by the court," according to the release. The court has not yet announced a date for the oral arguments, the release adds.

Last month, the state filed petitions that said judges who granted such adoptions "abused [their] discretion" by approving an adoption for couples and ordering the Utah Department of Vital Records and Statistics to issue new birth certificates for the couples' children.

Supporters of same-sex marriage have accused the state of "tearing families apart" for political reasons, but Assistant Attorney General Joni Jones, who oversees the litigation division of the office, said the state is seeking clarity, not discord.

After U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby's historic ruling on Dec. 20 that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, more than 1,300 gay and lesbian couples were wed in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay, halting the marriages. Those couples have since lived in a state of limbo, left to grapple with conflicting and often-confusing answers to the legal status of their unions.

A ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments from the state seeking to overturn Shelby's ruling last month, would also lend clarity to the question of whether same-sex marriage in Utah may, ultimately, be legalized.

The federal court has put the case on an expedited calendar and could rule any day. It's widely anticipated that after the appeals court rules, the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court along with several similar cases from around the country.

mmcfall@sltrib.com, mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda, @Marissa_Jae

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