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Utah reinforces call for more time in same-sex marriage recognition appeal

Published August 20, 2014 4:56 pm

Courts • State claims that it faces "irreparable harm" if delay isn't granted.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah reinforced its argument to a federal appeals court Wednesday in asking for 30 extra days to appeal a judge's order that the state extend spousal benefits to same-sex couples who married in Utah during a brief window when such unions were legal.

Its most recent brief, which more thoroughly fleshes out the state's argument for why its filing deadline should be moved from Sept. 22 to Oct. 22, acknowledges that the plaintiffs in the case — four gay and lesbian couples — believe they are being harmed every day this case drags on, but also asserts that Utah would suffer its own "irreparable harm" if not given the time extension.

"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. "Notwithstanding, one-time, 30-day extensions are routinely granted by the [10th Circuit]. Such a modest extension is merited in this matter."

This filing to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals comes just one day after the plaintiffs in the Evans v. Utah lawsuit responded to Utah's initial extension request with their own message to the court: The longer the appeal is dragged out, the more harm they will suffer.

"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. "These real concrete harms mitigate strongly against any further extensions in this case."

On Monday, the Utah attorney general's office asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for a one-month extension of the Sept. 22 deadline set by the court for the state's appeal.

"[Utah's] instant request is not for sloth or dawdling, but motivated by a desire to provide this court with the consistent standard of advocacy this important case merits," Douglas wrote in his brief Wednesday. "This case presents novel questions of both federal and state law."

This case is Utah's second legal battle over same-sex marriage to reach the 10th Circuit, which in June upheld U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby's historic decision in December that overturned Utah's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry in Utah for a period of 17 days.

After the nation's high court halted all same-sex weddings, giving the state a chance to appeal the ruling, Utah said its laws were returned to their "status quo" and it would be illegal for them 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 these couples spousal benefits was a violation of their 14th Amendment rights to equal protection and due process.

A stay by the U.S. Supreme Court blocked all movement toward doling out spousal benefits to married same-sex Utahns, after Kimball and the 10th Circuit denied similar requests from the state. That stay will expire once the 10th Circuit has ruled on the lawsuit.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae