Denying same-sex marriage licenses illegal, says A.G. office
The law now requires Utah counties to marry same-sex couples, the Utah attorney general's office said Tuesday, but officials in some jurisdictions continued to flout the new status quo.
Though the attorney general's office wasn't specifically advising county clerks on Christmas Eve, spokesman Ryan Bruckman pointed out that U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby "has put out his ruling that anyone who denies a marriage license [could be] in contempt of the court and in contempt of the law."
"According to that," Bruckman said, "everyone should be [issuing licenses]."
Despite Shelby's ruling, Utah County the state's second largest continued to turn down same-sex couples. Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson issued a statement Tuesday, reiterating that he is seeking clarification from the state and the Utah County attorney's office.
"Until I receive further information, the Utah County clerk's office will not be making any policy changes in regards to which we issue marriage licenses," according to Thompson's statement.
Attempts to reach Thompson and other county clerks were unsuccessful after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state's request for a stay about 6 p.m. Tuesday. It is unclear whether any counties will continue to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples in light of the fourth court ruling confirming that same-sex marriages should proceed.
Thompson said "probably a handful" of same-sex couples have shown up to be married, and he has been issued a notice of claim by one, Shelly Eyre and Cheryl Haws. The couple moved to sue the county after having a door slammed in their faces Monday while trying to obtain a marriage license.
In addition to a lawsuit, Thompson's response also sparked a protest Tuesday.
Filmmaker Kendall Wilcox was present at the protest and said about 20 people gathered at 10:30 a.m. near the county clerk's office. About 30 minutes later, the group moved a half-block down to the more visible corner of University Avenue and Center Street.
Wilcox said the response to the protest from passers-by was positive. Most people honked in support and only one person drove antagonistically, forcing a large pickup truck to belch black exhaust toward the group. Wilcox said the generally warm reception was a sign that, despite Thompson's response, many people in Utah County support same-sex marriage, or at least obeying the law.
"Some people are caught between doctrinal beliefs about sexuality," he said, "and their religious beliefs about the law."
Pictures of the protest bear out that conclusion, with several people holding signs citing LDS scripture about "honoring and sustaining the law." According to Wilcox who is gay and Mormon the protest also included Latter-day Saints who support same-sex marriage.
"This shows that the cultural climate of Utah County is not as monolithic as people would believe," Wilcox added.
Shelby clarified Monday that county clerks were legally obligated to issue marriage licenses. The clarification was part of Shelby's denial of the state's request for an emergency stay on his Friday ruling that struck down Amendment 3, a ban on same-sex marriages. Shelby wrote that the ban was unconstitutional.
In response, most other Utah counties had fallen in line with Shelby's ruling by Tuesday.
The Cache County clerk's office began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Tuesday. Two couples were married as of 9:35 a.m., according to a clerk's office worker. The office closed at noon Tuesday.
Cache County Attorney James Swink had issued a statement Monday saying the clerk's office was closed for business to all couples, gay or straight.
But Swink said Tuesday that, all along, he advised the clerk's office that a decision had been made by a federal judge and they had to abide by the law. They closed Monday because of "confusion" that Swink believes was largely cleared up by Shelby's comments.
Juab County also changed its policy Tuesday and announced it would issue same-sex marriage licenses. However, the office closed at 2 p.m. and no same-sex couples had applied for licences, according to a county employee.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Utah County was among four of Utah's 29 counties that were not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The other three counties were: Box Elder, Piute and San Juan.
"We're still at the same spot," Box Elder County Attorney Stephen Hadfield said. " ... The clerk's concern is that if she violates state law, it's a misdemeanor."
Late Tuesday, the governor's office sent an email to cabinet members regarding issues stemming from the recent federal court rulings.
"For those agencies that now face conflicting laws either in statute or administrative rule, you should consult with the assistant attorney generals assigned to your agency on the best course to resolve those conflicts," the email states. "Where no conflicting laws exist you should conduct business in compliance with the federal judge's ruling until such time that the current district court decision is addressed by the 10th Circuit Court."
Officials in Juab and Piute say that although they are awaiting further clarification from the state, demand for same-sex marriage has been scant.
Many county clerk offices were only open until noon Tuesday.
Garfield County officials have not responded to repeated request for comment. It is not known if they are issuing licenses to same-sex couples.