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(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) JoNell Evans (top), pictured with wife Stacia Ireland, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Utah's recognition of their same-sex marriages, Tuesday, May 20, 2014.
Utah same-sex couples celebrate ruling that honors marriages
First Published May 20 2014 09:23 pm • Last Updated May 22 2014 05:22 pm

Days before a federal judge ordered Utah to honor all same-sex marriages performed in the state, a room was reserved as refuge.

JoNell Evans, the plaintiff for whom the Evans v. Utah lawsuit was named, had orchestrated a night this coming weekend when the four couples challenging the state’s refusal to honor their marriages could congregate and commiserate.

At a glance

Meet the plaintiffs

JoNell Evans and Stacia Ireland » Married Dec. 20 after having been together for 13 years. They celebrated a religious marriage ceremony at the Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City in 2007.

Matthew Barraza and Tony Milner » Married Dec. 20 after having been in a committed relationship for 11 years. The two are raising — and attempting to legally adopt — Barraza’s 4-year-old son.

Marina Gomberg and Elenor Heyborne » Married Dec. 20 after having been together for nearly 10 years. The couple celebrated their relationship in a commitment ceremony almost five years ago.

Donald Johnson and Karl Fritz Schultz » Married Dec. 23 after having been together for more than 21 years. Johnson first proposed to Shultz on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1992 — a day they still consider their anniversary.

Stay holds in Idaho

Boise, Idaho » No same-sex marriages will be allowed or recognized in Idaho until an appeal is decided, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted request for a stay from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. The court also said it would put the appeal on a fast track, hearing arguments from all sides in September.

The decision means that despite a recent ruling overturning Idaho’s gay marriage ban, same-sex couples can’t get married or have their marriages recognized until the 9th Circuit or U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to let the ruling stand.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale overturned Idaho’s gay marriage ban May 13, saying the law unconstitutionally denied gay and lesbian residents their fundamental right to marry.

Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden both immediately announced plans to challenge Dale’s decision, asking the appellate court to put the ruling on hold while their appeals move forward.

Though the three-judge appellate court panel unanimously agreed to put that ruling on hold, Circuit Judge Hurwitz wrote in the order that he was only doing so because a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in another case virtually instructed courts of appeals to grant such stays.

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It would be something to look forward to after another week of pins and needles in a case that seemed more and more like a nail-biter.

Then, on Monday, 118 days after the lawsuit was filed, a federal judge’s ruling turned the support group into a celebration.

"We’re floating on a cloud at this point," said Evans. "We’re used to people denigrating our family and our relationship. It felt so good to have the respect of the law at last."

U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball ruled Monday that Utah must recognize and imbue all same-sex marriages performed in the state with the same rights and privileges afforded to married opposite-sex couples.

Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes have said little since Monday’s ruling about whether they will let Kimball’s decision stand or take it up with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Herbert, who in the immediate aftermath of a historic Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby ordered all county clerks to abide by the federal court’s order, blamed the judge for creating "chaos and confusion" in the state by allowing same-sex couples to marry for a short window of time and then leaving the state to figure out whether or not they could honor those marriages.

In the time since, married same-sex couples have gotten nothing but mixed messages: the state put the granting of marriage benefits to those couples on hold, though they were allowed to file joint federal and state tax returns and some judges began granting adoptions — a right reserved for married couples, according to Utah law.

"Judge Shelby’s failure to issue a stay within the Amendment 3 case created chaos and confusion," said gubernatorial spokesman Marty Carpenter. "As a result, various related legal issues continue to work their way through the judicial system. The governor is focused on defending Utah’s right to define marriage and is working closely with the attorney general to determine how to proceed in light of the U.S. District Court’s ruling."


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If the state doesn’t appeal, Kimball’s order will be as good as law in 21 days.

For the couples who joined with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah to force the state’s hand in recognizing their unions — Evans and Stacia Ireland; Matthew Barraza and Tony Milner; Marina Gomberg and Elenor Heyborne; Donald Johnson and Karl Fritz Schultz — that would be a welcome end to a months-long roller coaster of joy and fear.

"It feels like maybe, for the first time since all this started, I can catch my breath," Gomberg told the Tribune. "It’s such a relief."

Married • On Dec. 20, 2013, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples rushed the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office. Marriage licenses were being issued even before county officials were able to read every word of Shelby’s 53-page decision.

They saw what mattered: his order.

"The court hereby declares that Amendment 3 is unconstitutional because it denies the Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Evans and Ireland, her partner of 13 years, were among the crush of couples who exchanged vows that day.

So, too, were Heyborne and Gomberg, who have been together for nearly a decade.

For every couple in the clerk’s office, marriage meant something different: commitment, protection, family, health care, children, love.

But for all of them, it meant something they were never allowed before.

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