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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michael Ferguson leans into his husband Seth Anderson after they were married at the Salt Lake County offices, Friday December 20, 2013. With them are friends Blake Ferguson, left, and Danielle Morgan. Michael Ferguson and Seth Anderson, (holding their marriage certificate) were the first couple to be married under the now legal same sex marriage decision handed down by a federal judge just minutes before their ceremony.
Utah’s action on gay marriages ‘puts my kids in jeopardy’
‘On hold’ » Couples who are applying for licenses or benefits must wait for a court ruling.
First Published Jan 08 2014 10:54 am • Last Updated Jan 09 2014 02:45 pm

The state will not recognize the validity of marriages that occurred before the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a district court judge’s decision overturning a ban on gay marriage, the governor’s office announced Wednesday.

In a letter to state agencies, Derek Miller, chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, said those marriages will be "on hold" while it appeals the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby.

At a glance

Love Elevated — a mass reception for Utah’s same-sex marriages

QSaltLake, Le Croissant Catering, X96 and UtahGayWeddings.com are teaming to host “Love Elevated,” a celebration of same-sex marriages that occurred in the 17 days since U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling. The all-ages event will be held Saturday at The Rail Event Center, 235 N. 500 West, with donations going toward Restore Our Humanity — the group that funded the lawsuit. Doors open at 6 p.m.

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"Please understand this position is not intended to comment on the legal status of those same-sex marriages," the letter said. "That is for the courts to decide."

With a stay in place, the original laws governing marriage in Utah are again in effect. In his letter, Miller told state agency directors that the state’s existing law prohibits not only performing same-sex marriages, but also recognizing them. Clerks in Utah’s 29 counties estimate they issued more than 1,300 marriage licenses in the 17 days before the stay was granted.

"Wherever individuals are in the process of availing themselves of state services related to same-sex marital status, that process is on hold and will stay exactly in that position until a final court decision is issued," the letter said.

If couples had already received, for example, new driver licenses reflecting new names, those licenses will not be revoked, the letter said. But couples may not now seek new licenses.

"If someone was four steps along in the process, they stop at step four and they remain at step four until we get further direction from the court," Miller said.

Likewise, if a couple had completed a process — whether that was filing for health insurance coverage or preparing joint taxes — they are now frozen at that point, he said.

"Wherever anyone was at, that is now frozen in time until we receive further direction from the courts," Miller said. "We recognize it is the courts that will decide the validity and legality of those same-sex marriages. But we do need to follow the law, and the law tells us we are prohibited from recognizing those marriages."

Miller also said licenses, valid for 30 days, issued to couples who had not yet married would be frozen, too, until there is a final court decision.

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The state’s decision has attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice, which confirmed Wednesday that it is reviewing the governor’s decision.

Amy Fowler, 35, who married partner of three years Pidge Winburn, 37, at the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office on Dec. 30, said it was "heart-wrenching" to have those rights — at least in the interim — taken away.

"Before we were able to get married, we sort of knew … we knew the line of ‘Here are the things that we don’t get. We live in Utah and we choose to live here and so whatever, we’ll put up with this. One day it will change,’" she said. "And then in a blink of an eye, all of that changes. And lo and behold, the earth did not open up and swallow Salt Lake City."

Fowler said same-sex couples were in the process of evaluating their insurance, taxes and even adoptions, and now, "We’re back to Square One, but with the most devastating feeling."

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes informed the governor that his office had been unable to reach a legal conclusion on the "ultimate validity" of same-sex marriages performed between Dec. 20, when Shelby ruled, and Jan. 6, when the Supreme Court granted the state’s request for a stay.

"That question remains unanswered, and the answer will depend on the result of the appeal process," Reyes said Wednesday.

He said a review team has been set up to advise state agencies on a case-by-case basis about what to do now.

"We acknowledge that this is a very difficult situation for many," Reyes said in a statement. "It was the reason our office sought the stay of the district court’s decision immediately. We wanted to avoid the untenable situation in which many of our citizens find themselves. We are diligently seeking certainty for all Utahns through a proper and orderly legal process."

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has set an expedited briefing schedule for the appeal, with all filings from both sides due by the end of February. It has not yet set a date for oral arguments in the case.

Peggy A. Tomsic, who with James E. Magleby represents three same-sex couples who challenged Utah’s Amendment 3, called the decision "unprecedented and disappointing."

The decision "harms not only my clients, but hundreds of other same-sex couples who also were legally married, and whose families have been needlessly destabilized and stripped of basic legal protection," Tomsic said in a statement. "Regardless of how the state believes the 10th Circuit will ultimately rule, these couples are legally married, and the state should treat them accordingly."

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