Utah has an extra month to file its appeal of a federal judge’s order that the state extend spousal benefits to same-sex couples who wed in Utah during a short window in which such unions were legal.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday granted the state’s request for more time after setting an initial deadline of Sept. 22.
The state now has until Oct. 22 to file its case with the federal appeals court, according to an order filed by Judges Neil M. Gorsuch and Robert E. Bacharach.
Earlier this month, Utah had asked the court for a time extension, citing strained resources and the complexity of the Evans v. Utah lawsuit, which challenges the state to recognize the marriages of more than 1,200 gay and lesbian Utahns who married during a 17-day window when same-sex marriages were legal.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case — four gay and lesbian couples — filed a brief with the court last week explaining that the longer their clients are forced to wait for spousal benefits, the more harm may come to them.
"There are families who face financial, emotional and dignitary harms every single day [Utah] refuses to recognize their marriages," wrote John Mejía, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which represents the plaintiffs in this case.
But the state insisted that Utah would suffer its own "irreparable harm" if not given the necessary time to prepare its appeal.
"Utah has never disputed that plaintiffs genuinely feel subjected to hardship in this matter, and [Utah] never would," Utah Federal Solicitor Parker Douglas wrote on behalf of the Utah attorney general’s office last week. "Notwithstanding, one-time, 30-day extensions are routinely granted by the [10th Circuit]. Such a modest extension is merited in this matter."
The court seemed to agree.
This case is Utah’s second over same-sex marriage rights to come before the 10th Circuit, which in June upheld U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s historic decision in the Kitchen v. Herbert lawsuit that toppled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
After the nation’s high court halted all same-sex marriages in January, giving the state a chance to appeal Shelby’s ruling, the state said its laws were effectively returned to their "status quo" and it would be illegal for the state to extend marital benefits to same-sex spouses.
But, in May, U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball ordered Utah to do just that.
The judge found that denying same-sex couples marital benefits was a violation of their 14th Amendment rights to equal protection and due process.
A panel of three judges will hear Utah’s appeal of Kimball’s ruling at the 10th Circuit. Argument dates will likely be set once Utah files its appeal.
Although it is not yet clear which judges will hear the case, the three appeals court judges who sided with Shelby in overturning Utah’s ban on gay marriage — Judges Jerome A. Holmes, Carlos F. Lucero and Paul J. Kelly — wrote the court’s response to Utah’s request for a stay in the case, which was ultimately granted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the state has petitioned the nation’s high court to hear its appeal in the Kitchen case — Utah’s last chance to revive its ban on same-sex marriages.
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