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Suit to get gay marriages recognized moves to Utah's federal court

Published January 29, 2014 9:46 pm

Marriage • Hearing on Amendment 3 also gets April date.
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A lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Utah on behalf of four same-sex couples who are contesting the state's refusal to recognize their marriages has been moved from state court to federal court.

The Utah Attorney General's Office filed a notice on Tuesday, moving the case from the 3rd District Court in West Jordan to the U.S. District Court for Utah. The case has been assigned to Judge Dale A. Kimball.

The ACLU and the law firm of Strindberg & Scholnick filed the case on Jan. 21 on behalf of JoNell Evans and Stacia Ireland; Marina Gomberg and Elenor Heyborne; Matthew Barraza and Tony Milner; and Donald Johnson and Carl Fritz Shultz.

The plaintiffs all married after U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby's Dec. 20 ruling that Utah's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. Defendants in the case are the state, Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes.

The couples allege that the state's decision to place a hold on the marriages while it appeals Shelby's ruling has created a "legal limbo" that prevents them from pursuing critical protections for themselves and their families.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals announced oral arguments in the state's appeal will take place April 10. The case will be decided by a panel of three judges, who will be randomly assigned about 10 days before the hearing.

The 10th Circuit has agreed to let the same panel handle an appeal from Oklahoma, where a lower court struck down a similar ban on same-sex marriage. The court also will allow amicus briefs to be filed jointly in the Utah and Oklahoma cases. The appellate court has set an expedited briefing schedule for Oklahoma, with the last filings due April 7. The last filings in the Utah case are due March 4.

In the ACLU lawsuit, the plaintiffs want the court to declare valid any marriages that took place between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the decision, even if Amendment 3 is eventually found to be constitutional.

County clerks in Utah issued more than 1,300 marriage licenses during that 17-day period and the outcome of the lawsuit could affect all of those who married.

The Attorney General's Office said the lawsuit alleges federal civil rights violations, which are more appropriately addressed in federal court.

John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah, said, "No matter what the forum, we will continue to advance the litigation."

brooke@sltrib.com

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