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Utah ACLU sues state over treatment of same-sex couples

The lawsuit calls stripping the couples of their marital rights illegal, arbitrary and capricious.

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"Now, because of the state’s refusal to recognize our marriage, this peace of mind is again out of reach," said Milner, who is the executive director of a homeless shelter.

Marina Gomberg and Elenor Heyborne, who have been together for more than nine years and work in communications, also married in the wake of Shelby’s ruling. They had a commitment ceremony in 2009 and for the past several years have contemplated starting a family. But they also worried about the inability to both be recognized as their child’s legal parents.

At a glance

State gets filing extension

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has given Utah more time to file its appeal challenging a lower court ruling that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The court agreed to extend the filing deadline by seven days, which means the state’s brief is now due Feb. 3. It had been due Jan. 27. The court also extended other deadlines, giving the plaintiffs’ attorneys until Feb. 25 to file a response and the state until March 4 to submit its final arguments.

Utah had asked the court for a 10-day extension, which it said was warranted because of the importance of the case and because hiring outside counsel took longer than expected. The plaintiffs’ attorneys objected to more time, saying every additional day prolongs the injustice to same-sex couples caused by the marriage ban.

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That obstacle seemed to vanish with the ruling, Gomberg said.

"Even all the love and support of our families couldn’t change our tax status or guarantee hospital visitation or protect our ability to legally co-parent," Gomberg said. "Having the recognition and protection of marriage immediately lifted that weight from our shoulders that we had carried for so long we had become numb to it. We want to be married to strengthen and protect our bond and our commitment to one another, especially to create a safe environment to raise a child, or two. And we don’t want to have to leave Utah to do that."

JoNell Evans, 61, and Stacia Ireland, 60, said they decided to be plaintiffs in the lawsuit because of their "before" and "after" experiences in a medical crisis. After seeing friends kept from one another, the two, who have been together for 13 years, drew up wills and powers of attorney in hopes of protecting their rights.

Those documents were put to a test in 2010, when Ireland suffered a heart attack.

"Jonelle had to scramble to locate our legal documents before we left for the hospital," said Ireland, a semi-retired junior-high school math teacher who now works with students who have disabilities at a community college.

Evans was allowed to stay with Ireland, but hospital staffers were hesitant to include her as they would a spouse in making decisions, Ireland said.

Like the other couples, they rushed to the Salt Lake County clerk’s office after hearing of Shelby’s decision and were married by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.

On New Year’s Day, Ireland again experienced severe chest pains that brought them to an emergency department. This time, Evans was identified as Ireland’s wife and was treated with "all the courtesies and rights given to the married spouse of a patient," the lawsuit states.

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"The difference was dramatic for us," Evans said.

They returned to the hospital for a follow-up procedure Jan. 9, a day after the state’s announcement, unsure what would happen and brought along paper work to prove their married relationship.

"We’re back to square one, with no idea what’s going to happen to us if one of us is hospitalized," Ireland said. "After 13 years together, we just want the security and peace of mind to know we can be there for each other in the hard times."

But, she added, "we’re back to that world of uncertainty again."

Donald K. Johnson, 61, and Carl Fritz Shultz, 58, have been a couple for more than 21 years and finally married Dec. 23. Johnson, a veteran high school teacher, described them as typical good neighbors — the kind of people who "lend a hand when you need one" with dog sitting, lawn mowing or sidewalk shoveling.

"We are not an affront to the citizens and moral values of our community," Johnson said. "We don’t have the luxury of time to wait for the younger gay community to win our rights for us. It’s time that Fritz and myself stand up and become proud gay men and advocates for our own rights as citizens of the state of Utah."

He said his biggest worry after their marriage was telling his co-workers and students, even though the ceremony was videotaped by ABC News and shown on several news reports including CNN. The reaction was overwhelmingly supportive, and the class he teaches at an alternative high school even burst into applause at the news.

The two had explored but ultimately couldn’t afford the $4,000 to $5,000 they estimated it would cost to draw up legal documents protecting their rights.

After marrying, Johnson immediately called and got a family auto insurance plan, saving them $800 immediately. They also began checking into getting on the same health insurance plan, which they figure will save them $8,000 a year. But they aren’t sure whether they will be able to proceed.

"That’s one of those big ifs," Shultz said.


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